Posted in Changes, JLPT, Plans, Reflection

FEBRUARY AND MARCH PROGRESS REPORT ON JLPT N2

Before I jump into how February and March went study-wise, I should explain why I decided to combine those two months in a single progress report. 

Well, work got in my way. Or, to be specific: fatigue from work got in my way.

From December onward, it’s the highest season in my industry. I’m on call 24/7, so technically I’m at work from December till March (if you’re about to call DOL, put the phone away – I’m an entrepreneur). As a result, mid-Feb, due to all the trouble and stress that had occurred at work, I was very tired. I didn’t feel like studying. All I needed was sleep, sleep and some days off (which I finally got when March started).

February 2022 study log

With the beginning of March and the high season over, I took much-needed rest. I mostly slept, gamed and focused on recovering. What has been happening just over our eastern border didn’t help either, with my family’s minds exploring the ideas of ‘what-ifs’ the invasion progresses to the west and to our country. As you can probably imagine, this added extra stress and left no room for even an inch of thought left for Japanese.

Fortunately, the situation improved around mid-March. I felt rested and ready to embrace Japanese again. And so I did. However, because I spent only half of both February and March actually studying, I thought it would make more sense to merge those two months rather than writing two separate posts for both, especially because they had a common reason for the break in my studies.

March 2022 study log

Now, without further ado, let’s see how much of a leap I took towards my passing JLPT N2.

N2 PROGRESS

February was up to a great start and I moved forward per the plan. However, due to more and more problems at work arising, as the days passed, I studied less and less N2 materials and my study plan crumbled. If you glance at my study log, I only used JLPT prep materials 5 times in the entire month, making the greatest progress in my grammar studies (2 whole chapters!). Vocabulary and kanji were studied ONCE. However, after going through vocabulary, I didn’t really review or put words into flashcards.

That changed with March – I decided to make amends with my abandoned Anki and started inputting new cards. To be honest, I’m still waaaaaay behind in creating new ones, but I’m trying hard to catch up with the chapters I’m currently studying with So-matome.

Speaking of So-matome, both vocabulary and kanji started going in tandem, me making progress on both, despite kanji being initially planned for later in 2022. In consequence, I re-made my entire JLPT N2 road map – after all, one month worth of studies was missing due to my break. I also included March, giving myself little material to cover in order not to discourage myself. As a result, I did better than I had anticipated: 4 chapters of Try! (planned 2), 6 chapters of vocabulary (planned 4), and 4 chapters of kanji (planned 2). Thanks to that, I could create a better, less-packed (more doable) plan for the upcoming months. 

AUTHENTIC MATERIALS

I honestly felt that February went better in terms of using the authentic materials, but when you glance at my study logs, they were comparatively similar: I just focused on different media. In February I tackled another novel: ホームレス中学生 (by 田村裕).

I had been very curious about this book so I began reading it right after it arrived. Level-wise, it’s perfect for N2 students. You get a lot of N2 kanji and vocabulary but it’s not overwhelming – meaning you can read it while you’ve only just begun preparing for N2. What’s more, since the protagonist is 14 years old, the author clearly took that into consideration when writing the book, since it uses first-person narrative. As a result, the way the protagonist expresses himself is quite simple: he uses shorter sentences, without too many advanced structures. In fact, I mostly met N3 structures and N2 ones were scarce. It makes sense – an average junior high student has only started to learn how to speak like an adult. The chapters are also concise – some of them just a few pages long, making it a perfect read when you’re just getting into reading authentic materials (or have little time to read).

In February, I also got into ゆびさきと恋々, a shojo romance manga about a relationship between a deaf university student and a well-travelled polyglot (who’s her fellow uni student). For a language learner, this manga was double the fun, since other languages are used in it plus you get to learn the Japanese Sign Language. The story and the romance themselves are also engaging, so I flew through this manga and couldn’t wait for vol. 6 to come out in March – resulting in me reading it the moment I received my copy. 

While in February I didn’t have much opportunity to include listening in my studies, that changed dramatically in March. I decided to get back to gaming and picked up an old favourite of mine: Prince of Stride. I played this game back in 2016, when I was still at N4 level, having finished 4 out of 6 available routes. As it’s been a while since I played this otoge (otome game), I went for a new game option, instead of using the old saves. I could immediately remember why the game felt easy those years ago – it doesn’t have narration. What characters are doing is either shown on the screen or commented on by the protagonist (in her thoughts). Thanks to that, most lines are dubbed. And, apart from sports technicalities, the lines are fairly easy to read (more on the game in my RELATIVELY EASY OTOME GAMES blog post). All in all, I spent almost 12 hours playing it that month.

As for other March resources, I got into The Real Japanese Podcast! 日本語で話すだけのラジオです!, hosted by Haruka sensei. What I love about this podcast is the fact that each episode has a topic sensei talks about. The episodes level is also displayed, making it easier to pick the right one for you. They’re relatively short, too – each varying from under 10 minutes to around 30. Haruka sensei’s voice is so pleasant to listen to and I love her life anecdotes she sneaks in. The podcast is also available on YouTube if you prefer to see the person speaking.

CONCLUSIONS

Although I spent 1 month not studying, I am quite satisfied with my results. There’s still hope I can complete all N2 preparations by August – that is when registration for the December session opens. In case the exam is cancelled this year yet again, I will have finished the preparations anyway, so I can just review the material if I had to wait one more year to tackle JLPT. The bad news is I cannot afford any more major breaks in my studies. A day or two off is perfectly fine, but taking a week off will greatly disrupt the plan I hatched. I have to keep myself in line.

What’s more, I learned my January lesson and started including more listening practice in my studies – I tried podcasts, games and anime. It’s not as much input as I’d used to have, but it’s a start. I hope to incorporate even more practice in the upcoming months. After all, I believe that you cannot limit listening to just doing mock papers a month before the real deal – that’s not nearly enough, especially on N2+ levels where the speech is more natural, its pace included.

However, there’s one more lesson I have learned in that first quarter of the year: I should’ve included kanji studies from the start. The problem isn’t their number required for this exam, but the fact that I enjoy kanji too much to wait till May. I have done a few review exercises here and there back in January, but in February and March I started going through the textbook I initially planned for May onwards – So-matome N2 kanji. I have also created a brand new kanji register, leaving my N3 and below kanji collection in the previous one. The new register is intended for N2 kanji only. There are around a thousand of them to learn (including some reviews from the N3 level), so a new notebook should suffice to fit them all. Plus fresh stationery always feels nice (and it’s red, too, like all JLPT prep books meant for N2 level!).

Since kanji joined the game plus I had a month’s break, I had to readjust my JLPT road map. As I mentioned above, I did squeeze in all the material in the 4 months leading up to August successfully. I won’t publish the new plan on the blog, however, as it will most likely change each month. I will be considering my current progress in it, meaning that if I manage to do more work than planned for the month, I will change my schedule for next month accordingly. I have already done so for April, as in March I did better than I’d expected!

One last change that occurred last month is the Anki revival. I haven’t used the program for around a year or so (the service even sent me a warning email that my account was going to be erased if I didn’t log in!), but I rebuilt my relationship with it and included daily flashcard reviews into my learning sessions – this is what I study all my studies with now.

As for April, I plan to finish 24 chapters in total. It sounds like a lot and it really is, if I think about it. However, I’m not too worried. I tend to glide through vocabulary quite smoothly (the Anki input is another thing; I have to make myself do it, otherwise it’s just not happening) and I got back to studying kanji while enjoying a nice anime in the background, like I used to during my N3 prep. Just hoping work won’t get in my way again… * sigh

Posted in JLPT, Plans, Reading, Study methods

JANUARY PROGRESS REPORT ON JLPT N2

Welcome to the very first post of a new series! Since my JLPT road map included monthly goals for me to complete in order to reach Japanese N2 level, I decided to do monthly summaries of what progress I managed to make within that month. Since today is January 31st, let’s take a look at my study log and analyse how I did.

January 2022 study log. “Off” means I took a day off.

N2 PROGRESS

It was an exhausting month for me work-wise. I really had to juggle between my job and Japanese studies. Yet, I’m proud to say that I stuck to my 2022 ROAD MAP and completed my monthly goals! I have reached chapter 6(2) of Try! and chapter 2-3 of So-matome N2 goi (the vocabulary book). It means that I have fulfilled my plan but did not exceed it.

What’s more, I did 7 chapters of Kanzen Master N2 Kanji. This is a textbook I will be using more diligently in autumn, BUT starting from chapter 15, as the first 14 chapters are a revision of the first 350 kanji. I decided not to put those chapters in the road map and instead want to squeeze them in the months leading to September somehow. 

AUTHENTIC MATERIALS

This month was a blast… A LITERAL BLAST! I have read the entire Btooom!! series! As you can probably derive from its title, this series follows a group of characters participating in a deadly game where they compete against each other… using bombs! I am so happy to have wrapped up this series after almost a decade of reading it – and reaching the ending entirely in Japanese, too! Also, as this series is intended for adult readers, I have learned to read and recognise a lot of new kanji and phrases because I couldn’t rely on furigana. Despite this, I breezed through this series. I think the contributing factor was that it is an action series, meaning they do not speak much per page, but when they do – boy, was I struggling at times!

As for other materials, I have read a book called いつかすべてが君の力になる (Everything Will Become Your Strength One Day) by Yuuki Kaji, a Japanese voice actor. I had had my eyes on this book for several months prior to last Christmas when I received it as a gift. It was such a smooth and pleasurable read that I almost completed it over a few evenings… but them I got sucked into Btooom!! again and kept on reading that manga until I reached its final volume. However, with a few days of January to spare, I also managed to finish Kaji’s book. It’s about his road to becoming a mainstream seiyuu, including his tips for young people aiming to become voice actors themselves. I have been interested in voice actors for quite a while now (not that I want to become one, no), but I was simply curious how one becomes and makes a living as such an actor in Japan.

The other reason why I can recommend this book is its language level. I believe people of N3 level should be able to read it quite smoothly. It’s addressed to Japanese 14 year-olds, so while kanjis are present, they are quite often with furigana and some words are even written in kana instead. Moreover, Kaji uses such a straightforward language to reach his target audience that a language learner can only benefit from it. If you’re also interested in voice actors (or are a fan of Yuuki Kaji himself), give this one a try. It’s only 170 pages long and includes a recording studio tour (with pictures)!

CONCLUSIONS

One huge conclusion I have for this month is that I need to include some listening practice. Don’t get me wrong, I do listen to Japanese a lot, but it’s mostly subtitled. I’ve barely watched or listened to any shows this month, honestly. I need to incorporate them to my studies as well. The problem is that I used to ‘watch’ shows while textbook studying (i.e. they were running in the background) but since N2 level is quite a jump from N3, I need to focus more on the items I am studying at that moment and my brain shuts off that ‘background noise’ that might an anime be. I need to find a way to work around that struggle. It might be that I have to adjust to N2 level and will be fine to include background anime later or it could just be what advanced level is about.

The other issue is that I mostly used anime I had already watched (and loved) in the past as my ‘background noise’ and the list of those had significantly shrunk back during my N3 studies. For instance, I have rewatched the entire Marmalade Boy and Fushigi Yuugi series simply by listening to what was going on and not watching the screen (because I didn’t need to – I know those shows by heart). That’s how it usually goes so I cannot include an anime that either has a lot of action (meaning I need to pay attention to the picture) or that I haven’t watched before.

One solution I have come up with is playing games again, especially that I have put two visual novel games on my 2022 resolutions list. The games usually give me the best of both worlds, boosting both my listening and reading skills at the same time. I’m also curious to find out how Zettai Kaikyuu Gakuen’s story ends so I really want to get back to that game soon. Maybe in February, then? Who knows. I am a very spontaneous person when it comes to what I’m watching or reading which is why I cannot tell what authentic materials I will be going through – they mostly depend on my mood.

Another conclusion is that I was right about the amount of textbook materials to go through per month. The number of chapters I have assigned myself for this month was perfect and since February has the same dosage – I’m feeling pretty confident about it. But I have to admit, the first few chapters were tough. Having to adjust to the increased level of vocabulary and topics punched me in the gut at first. However, reading more adult-oriented authentic materials (Btooom!! is an 18+ manga and uses little to no furigana) was a jackpot. As the month progressed, I was making noticeable progress, too. And I wish it to stay that way in the upcoming months. 

Posted in Attitude, Choices and sacrifices, JLPT, Plans, Reflection

2022 NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS

Welcome to 2022! Happy New Year! Did you spend a fun Eve? Managed to enjoy the first sunrise of the new year? It has been over a week since then, so it is high time I decided on my 2022 resolutions. As I have already published my JLPT road map for N2, I took that extra time to deeply think about my resolutions on purpose. Exam prep is one thing, but what other goals should I pursue this year? Time to find out.

N2 ROAD MAP

Before we move onto non-JLPT topics, an additional explanation on my road map should be given. Although I did elaborate on the details of my study plan, when I re-read it, I noticed that I did not pay much attention to several issues, so I will be doing that now.

One of them is why the core of my studies will be wrapped up by August and then later only reviewed. There’s a simple reason for that: JLPT registration begins mid-August. In case the December exam gets cancelled yet again, so as not to get discouraged, I want to have the entire material covered already. To my mind, it would be easier for me to resume my studies later when I can just review what I already know rather than having some leftovers to go over.

What is more, I have been observing other people’s experience with said cancellation over the last 2 years and what I have gathered is that the revelation is disheartening and could be detrimental to the studies. Being afraid I might fall victim to the very same feeling (and end up taking a break as a result), I prefer to stick to a tougher studying regime before I get to know whether the exam is organised this year at all. This is especially true because the next examination opportunity for me would be in Dec 2023 (as I have mentioned before, I cannot sit the July session due to work obligations, unfortunately), so I will have over a year for necessary drills anyway.

Don’t worry, I am sure the possible cancellation will NOT influence my enjoyment of authentic materials, just JLPT resources and that serious prep mode. After all, when I took N3, I did take a two-year-long break from textbook studying. Yet, that did not stop me from enjoying Japanese games and reading materials in the meantime (which I show on my Instagram account if you’re interested; since my preparation has already started, I post my day-to-day study sessions there, too). Those are my usual free time activities and have been since I was a child so I am unable to stay away from them for too long either way.

AUTHENTIC MATERIALS

As I have mentioned above, JLPT prep books are not the only books I will be having fun with this year. I am a firm believer of the fact that language studying not only comes from textbooks but mostly from one’s exposure to authentic materials. I myself am a product of such attitude: my English proficiency has mostly come from my indulgence in authentic materials, so I am doing the same thing for my Japanese studies, too. After all, if it had worked for me before, why not trust it again?

As for the specific titles I wish to tick off in 2022, here is the list:

  • Ore Monogatari (13 vols),
  • Btooom!! (27 vols; currently at vol 6),
  • Chihayafuru (47 vols at the moment; currently at vol 12),
  • HP3 (currently at 50% mark),
  • Zettai Kaikyuu Gakuen (the otome game I played back in November; I have ⅖ routes left),
  • Error Salvation (an otome game I got for Christmas).

Those are the core items I hope to complete before the year ends. I can and most likely will (given the fact that I am pretty spontaneous when it comes to my reading/watching/listening choices) put additional publications on this list. I do not usually make plans when it comes to films or TV series to watch, however. I just follow my gut instinct and wishes I have at the time. For instance, right now I am re-watching Ao no Exorcist – simply because I stumbled upon it on Netflix and felt like watching it again after 10 years.

GOODREADS

I am pretty active on GoodReads. I follow my progress of not only the Japanese titles but also English and Polish ones. I also cover textbooks progress – honestly, if I can find something there, I add it to my account. I have been using this service for a few years now and it does motivate me to read and study more. I love updating my status.

Last year, I opted for 100 titles read and I DID achieve it! Heck, I even went overboard, having 151 titles read under my belt. Initially, it was all about the number, but for the past 2 years I have been distributing that number into 3 categories:

  • Japanese titles,
  • Books (in Polish or English),
  • Manga (in Polish or English).

As for the Japanese titles, anything goes: mangas, books, textbooks, guidebooks and so on. As for the other two, only English and Polish versions count. The reason for such division is because Polish is my mother tongue and I am a C2 speaker of English (according to the CEFR scale), meaning I am proficient and thus no longer perceive consuming English materials as ‘studying’ but as pure entertainment. I do enjoy my Japanese reads but, with exception of rare cases, I still perceive them as a ‘chore’. Of course, when I finally do make myself sit down with a book or a game, I get pulled into the contents and might forget that it’s actually Japanese. However, my brain does remind me of that fact after a varied period of time – with a headache and/or a vertigo-like sensation. With Polish and English titles such a ‘system overheat’ does not occur and that is why I treat them as a separate category.

As such, my plan this year is to read 100 books again, in the following ratio:

  • 40 Japanese titles,
  • 20 books,
  • 40 mangas.

LESS SOCIAL MEDIA

This point concerns YouTube in particular. To be honest, I waste a lot of time scrolling shorts as well as listening to Reddit reads while I could read more audiobooks or valuable podcasts instead. I mean, Reddit threads are sometimes useful in terms of research for writing ideas (e.g. r/relationships or r/maliciouscompliance threads, to name but a few) but I can listen to it for HOURS on end, especially if I am doing house chores at the same time.

Unfortunately, because of my job, I cannot escape social media for good – not that I want to, either. My work intertwines with Facebook so I need it at hand. However, I do realise that my excessive meme consumption and mindless scrolling has been eating up my free time way too often. How many times have I found myself taking my phone at 8 pm and finally checking the time 3 hours of YouTube later? I am not saying that needs to stop entirely but it definitely needs to get under control and be reduced as a result.

I honestly still have no idea how I will go about this but I do not worry much. I have already noticed that having shifted my focus to new compulsory tasks, such as sitting down with Japanese textbooks or writing in my diary makes me not grab the phone and zone out. Putting the phone away when I am preparing for bed is another issue, though… My sleep patterns have been a major issue as well since my job has no regular working hours. But as I have said, it is okay if I do not have a plan for that yet: I am working on it.

If you share similar struggles, realise this: sometimes you do not need a thorough plan beforehand. Testing things out ‘in the battlefield’, so to speak, is also a proper way of trying to find the best solution to your problems. The most important thing is the realisation that there IS a problem that needs to be dealt with.

WHAT ABOUT NANOWRIMO?

As much as I would love to do the NaNo challenge (especially since I have not really done it last year), I had to draw a line here: one major obligation at a time. This year is oriented for JLPT N2, so I will not be doing NaNoWriMo in 2022. Regardless, I will try to fit writing into my schedule: for instance, I still write daily in my Hobonichi Original (the one meant for writing ideas). I have found additional time for blogging, too – the result of which you could have noticed over the past few weeks of posting. I do know, however, that I am not very good at following several goals at once. This is why the heaviest focus will be on my N2 preparations and writing will be only a side activity.

Considering all that, I have to admit that this year I have surely set more goals than, say, last year when I was very lenient on myself. I am honestly relieved that I made that decision to move on towards the N2 level. For the past year, I felt as if I was simply spinning my wheels – even though I had spent time enjoying Japanese materials. As the need to better myself gradually got stronger and stronger, I felt more and more ready for the next challenge. I hope I will be granted the opportunity to prove myself in December. Wish me lu— no, wait. Do NOT wish me luck. Even the Japanese know it – you do not wish somebody luck before a test, you ask them to DO THEIR BEST (がんばってください). Wish me motivation. Wish me strength. Wish me SUCCESS.

Posted in Attitude, Reflection

GOOD THINGS 2021 BROUGHT

This is my final post this year. I hope you all have a great New Year’s celebration and see you in 2022! 🥳🎉

A couple of days ago I pondered about the negative aspects of the passing year so this time I tried to find a few good things I can say about 2021. Because it wasn’t entirely as bad as I’d thought.

1. BACK TO POOL

The pandemic, but not only that (I hadn’t had an exercise routine for years even before that) really took a toll on my physical fitness. Being on the heavier side and having turned 30 didn’t ease my worries at all, despite daily walks with my dogs which has given me at least SOME regular exercise. But I had enough panting when climbing the stairs and cutting the walks short because I couldn’t keep up the pace. I knew hitting the gym wouldn’t work – I have never liked it. 

What sports do I like doing then?’ I asked myself.
Swimming, cycling and step aeorobics’ was what I answered.

The last one wasn’t possible due to COVID-19 restrictions. The second would be hard to stick to because as much as I like cycling, I hate climbing while doing so. And living in the mountains doesn’t help. So swimming it was. I bought a new costume (WITH. A. SKIRT! It was the best purchase ever that gave me the best of two worlds: more coverage of my private areas – the exposure of which has always made me very self-conscious – but also better leg movement at the same time). So on August 28th, I went for my first dip. I swam 30 pool lengths back then (each is 25 m). Now, 4 months of regular 2 times a week workouts later, I swim 60 lengths per training session in under 45 mins. And I know that because…

2. FITNESS WATCH

I have bought myself a fitness watch! This is thanks to a lovely community of fellow English teacher friends. We also discuss and motivate each other in our workouts, diets and other things! One of those things they basically made me buy is a fitness watch. And I couldn’t have been happier with it! It tracks my step count, which encourages me to walk that extra distance with my dog so it could be registered. It’s waterproof so I can use it for my swims. Hence I am proud to say that since the end of September (that’s when I got it) I have swum over 25000 metres (in other words, over 1000 pool lengths)!

3. HOBONICHI WRITING JOURNAL

Hobonichi this, #hobonichi that – WHAT. IS. THE. FUSS. ABOUT? – I needed to know. I liked the idea of having a Japanese calendar, with Japanese quotes and dates. Yet I am not a daily calendar user. I used to keep a bullet journal but dropped it after the pandemic hit. So, at first, I got a #hobonichiweeks for my work and life schedule and it WORKED FANTASTIC. Still does! But I really wanted to give that #hobonichioriginal a try. So I decided to put down my writing notes and ideas in it. And it also turned out great, keeping me focused on my work. Most days I might not be doing much novel writing in itself, but I’m definitely letting my imagination run wild and moulding all those plot twists and characters.

4. NEW JAPANESE PROJECT

I honestly wish I could tip my hand but they’re tied here 😀 I will give you a hint, though: remember that PDF file I shared with you yesterday? It might not be the last one I have in store… 😉

5. HEALTH ISSUES RESOLVED

This mostly concerns other family members but me, yet I did visit a doctor and had my blood drawn for a yearly check-up and all things were fine on paper. I’m actually expecting them to be even better next year since they were done BEFORE I started exercising and cutting down on junk food more. 

Posted in JLPT, Motivation, Plans, Study methods

JLPT N2 ROAD MAP FOR 2022

I am SO excited! I literally cannot wait to dig into my textbooks.

In fact, I already did – I completed a chapter of one of my textbooks which is going to give me a head start in 2022. I have also (barely) scratched the surface of new kanji I need to acquire if I want to sit that N2 exam and rock it.

But how exactly am I going to get ready for next December?

Buckle up because I have crafted a plan. And a surprise for you, too – available at the very end of this post if you cannot wait to find out.

Anyway, here is what my road map looks like:
* means I will be wrapping up a textbook in that month. 

THE REASONING

As I was drafting my plan, I had three of my past prep experiences resurface:

  1. Focusing on 1-2 textbooks tops at a time worked best for me,
  2. I will lose steam the further I go, especially during reviews,
  3. Instead of a fixed weekly schedule, I should aim for monthly goals.

Taking those facts into consideration, I decided to put the majority of work in the first half of the year, meaning that past July I will be mostly reviewing and polishing rather than acquiring new material. It also considers that I might fall behind at some point and will have to play a little game of catch-up. My job will hit me hard in June, as the summer begins, so in case I need to shift my focus onto my work more, I can do that as long as I work hard in winter and spring. In January and February, I will be equally overloaded with work BUT here I am betting on the fact that it is just the beginning so my motivation will be at its highest.

What will keep my motivation steady is setting a MONTHLY goal instead of adhering to a set weekly goal or schedule. I hate working on a timetable. My job also allows for flexibility so I am used to that kind of freedom in my studies, too. I am also well aware that I will have better and worse weeks: both weeks with lots of free time and busy, exhausting weeks. For these reasons, instead of punching myself for not fulfilling my weekly standards, I am going with a monthly workload. It will give me more room for manoeuvre as well as allow me to progress further when I finish the set assignments earlier (or when I will feel like doing a certain textbook more than the other).

And this is also why I will be working with two textbooks, for two different skills, in a given month. First, it will provide me with a choice: I can pick what to study on a particular day. Don’t feel like learning grammar? Alright, let’s memorise new vocabulary then. Secondly, it won’t overwhelm me with too much material to cover per month.

THE TEXTBOOKS

Using my N3 experience in self-studying, I already know which books I am fond of and of which I am definitely not. Thus the list of textbooks I will be using include:

  • Try! N2,
  • So-matome N2 goi (vocabulary),
  • So-matome N2 kanji,
  • Shin Kanzen Master N2 goi (vocabulary),
  • Shin Kanzen Master N2 kanji.

Those are 5 basic textbooks I will base my studies on. I also have both Shin Kanzen Master’s as well as So-matome’s dokkai (reading) and choukai (listening) books ready, but I am not going to go over them in full like I want to with the 5 above. To tell the truth, in the case of Shin Kanzen Master I will allow myself to not finish both vocabulary and kanji books if I run out of time as they will serve as reinforcement. The initial studying will be done with So-matome series as well as Try!

As for how I divided the materials I will use, I did some heavy math when coming up with HOW MUCH I should cover each month. In case you are not familiar with the above textbooks, here is how they are structured:

  • Try! N2 has 14 chapters. Each chapter ends with a mock test. Some chapters are divided into two parts if they cover broader or more difficult grammar points. Each chapter/part starts with a reading passage that contains all grammar points which will be introduced in the chapter/part, an explanation of the grammar points plus 1 exercise for each point and all these spreads over around 8-10 pages. 
  • Somatome series works in a weekly cycle, meaning, theoretically, that you should study 1 chapter per day (I honestly never do that). For this reason, each unit consists of 7 two-page chapters (6 of them introducing new material and the 7th being a mock test). The N2 level books have 8 units, 7 chapters each which mean 56 chapters in total.
  • Shin Kanzen Master series divides its books just into chapters. Each chapter contains two parts, spread over 2-4 pages: the explanation and the exercises (or just exercises themselves, in case of kanji, dokkai and choukai). After several chapters, there’s a review section with a mock test. The N2 level has around 54-56 chapters per book. The difficulty of this series is a bit higher which is why I prefer So-matome for my first contact with new material and reviewing with Kanzen later, especially since it has more exercises per chapter which means I am getting a more productive review.

After I noted down how many chapters there are, I checked how much time I spent on their N3 equivalents and decided that I need around 6 months to complete a So-matome book, around 3 months for Try! and around 2-3 months for Shin Kanzen Master since I do not necessarily need to finish them before the exam. That gave me 10 chapters of So-matome, 7 chapters of Try! and 13-15 chapters of Kanzen (depending on the book) per month. By now, you have probably noticed that I am breaking the rule I have just established if you studied the road map closely. Clearly, So-matome has more chapters scheduled per month!

This is because of that series’ structure: instead of pushing chapter 7 of each unit (remember, this is a review chapter), I added it to the batch. So-matome’s reviews are ABCD questions mostly. They take me around 15-20 minutes to complete. I can dedicate that much extra time. Plus it makes more sense educationally – why postpone the review till next month instead of doing it right after I learned the material?

HOW DOES THAT ADD UP?

Bear with me for a little. I am going to TALK. MATH. AGAIN.

Let’s look at January: I have scheduled 7 chapters of Try! and 10 chapters of vocabulary for myself. How does that translate into… time?

On average, I go over 1 chapter of Try! or 1-2 chapters of So-matome per study session. Let’s say I do only one session per day. I might fancy more on some days but let’s not be too optimistic. I am going to be lazy for sure. I know myself that much.

Here comes the math: worst case scenario I do 7 sessions of Try! and 10 sessions of So-matome in a month. That equals 17 days, a little over half a month. The other half? I do as I please, I take care of my family, my job, my pets, other hobbies, exercise, my Youtube addiction and so on. Best case scenario? I am done within 10 days. TEN days. A THIRD of a month!

THE AUTHENTIC MATERIALS

Textbooks are not the only books I will be reading in 2022. I have a long to-read list I wish to plough through in the next 365 days. Plus it’s the N2 level we are talking about – the advanced level! I need to absorb more authentic materials, both in reading and in audio format to be able to understand the reading and listening section. As for what titles exactly I am aiming for, check out my next post where I cover my new year’s resolutions! Expect its arrival after the year turns.

As much as I would love to quote James Doakes here, I am just going to shout “SURPRISE!”. If you would like to draw up your own JLPT prep journey, I have prepared a blank version of the road map above for each JLPT level! You can download it here: JLPT 2022 ROAD MAP (all JLPT levels are included in a single PDF file). There’s also a more ‘printer friendly’ white background version: JLPT 2022 ROAD MAP WHITE.

If you want to share this road map on social media, please do remember to link my website. 🙂 Thanks in advance!

Posted in Attitude, Changes, JLPT, Languages, Motivation, Plans

WHAT HAPPENED TO 2021?

Let’s start it the cliche way: another year has almost gone and went and here I am, reflecting on what 2021 has brought. It was a tough year, to be honest. As you have probably noticed, I haven’t even written a single post apart from the resolutions one. Yet I kept faith that I would come back to blogging. So here I enter with the big announcement I am sure some of you have been waiting for: I will be taking JLPT N2 next December!
Yes, you heard that right. The time has come for yet another JLPT trip!
I am not entirely certain, however, if I manage to prepare in time but I will do my best to make things work!

Honestly, my biggest worry is whether the exam will take place at all since the December session has been cancelled for the past 2 years here. The July session happened but I cannot afford to take a day off work in summers. My work thrives when people take holidays. That’s the con of working in tourism. But, fortunately, December is usually slow thus I can take an entire weekend off, hop on a train to the capital and sit down with yet another JLPT paper in hand.
Maybe that’s also the concept that spoke to me: the last time the December session took place was when I wrote N3 level, back in 2019. After all, wouldn’t it be fun to tackle N2 when JLPT winter examination resumes?

I am currently working on a study plan for 2022 and will cover it in the next post. For today, however, I have decided to take a look and reflect on 2021’s resolutions. Which ones have I fulfilled? Which ones have I utterly failed? Time to find out!

NANOWRIMO 2021

“残念ですが…” – to put it in Japanese (meaning: “too bad, but…”), I have not taken part in NaNoWriMo this year. At least not in the traditional sense, as I have not written even a single page of a novel. I did, however, make considerable progress on my ongoing work project (which has nothing to do with novels yet it is connected with Japanese language learning itself). I cannot disclose any more details, unfortunately, as I keep this project completely confidential. I do plan to publish its results in the future, though, and I believe you might be interested in it if you are studying Japanese, too.

THE FIRST NOVEL

As I have mentioned, this year was difficult on me – both in terms of the health of my close ones as well as mourning. A fox slaughtered all my chickens in June. In September I had to put down one of my dogs when his illness went beyond curable. So I helped him the only way I could – by stopping the suffering. But I couldn’t stop my own suffering after his passing. Then, only a month later, my mother got her lab results back and they qualified her for a prompt surgery – yes, they were awful.
Despite all this, I continued to make progress on my first book. However, tackling a series (a 9-volume one, to boot!) for your first is not as simple as it would seem. Planning all volumes (more or less at least, especially when it comes to the later ones) as well as the character arcs, overall story arc and each book’s arcs, especially in a way that they all hold water when you look at the story as a whole, is not an easy feat. But the good news is that I AM making progress! I am just taking my time since I am in no rush. This is my lifelong dream but it doesn’t need to happen right this moment. I am patient and prefer to educate myself on novel writing, structure, character arcs and also glance at what the others are writing in my genre before I jump into that bottomless ocean of publications.

And that’s it. To quote myself, I didn’t “make any grandiose plans” so there is not much to contemplate about. I do have ones for 2022, though. If you want to find out about those as well as about my outlined road map to N2, stay tuned! The next post is coming around New Year’s!

Posted in Attitude, Changes, Plans

WELCOME, NEW YEAR 2021!

Happy New Year! – finally!

Had you been waiting as much as I had for 2021 to come? The previous year was tragic – both with the worldwide pandemic occurring as well as in my personal life. A lot has happened that hindered my language learning progress and, in all honestly, so it did with any other progress. For my family and me, the world stopped and our survival instinct kicked in. I won’t exaggerate if I say that the pandemic had a significant influence on both our personal and professional lives. The industry we work in was heavily impacted by the pandemic. Here, it has been under severe restrictions and currently remains under a lockdown, so we cannot operate at all. It isn’t pretty.

Which is why I didn’t simply have space to worry about making progress in Japanese, not to mention ploughing through that N2 level. Basically, it fell to the bottom of my list of priorities this past year.

My guess is it might be similar for many of you.
Does this worry me?
Not really.
I learnt not to punish myself for taking breaks in language learning, remember? I still adhere to that rule.
Yet, I feel it necessary to hold myself to account for my 2020 New Year’s resolutions. I made three, so let’s take a look at how I did.

1. PLAY PERSONA GAMES IN JAPANESE

I actually fulfilled that resolution! I have completed TWO Persona games this year – mostly during March and April’s lockdown – which are Persona 5 Royal and Persona 5 Scramble, in this order. I have started playing Persona 4 Dancing All Night as well as progressed further in my Persona 4 Golden gameplay, but I didn’t manage to finish either of them.

2. READ 1 VOLUME OF HARRY POTTER

This one’s a total fail. Although the year’s started with my reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, as I had predicted in my New Year’s Resolutions post, yet I didn’t get far after the pandemic hit. I only managed to read it until Harry reaches the Leaky Cauldron and then discontinued it. Guess last year I didn’t fancy reading Harry that much – that also included listening to my favourite HP podcasts out there. I’m sooo behind!

3. JOIN A CONVERSATION CLASS

Again, this point didn’t work out at all. Even though I had secured my future teacher on italki and was supposed to start the classes back in February, after I got my positive results from JLPT, my mom broke her leg, unfortunately. I had to take care of her in the hospital and also of everything else while she was admitted, so I didn’t have time to think about taking classes. Then March came – and we all know what it brought. I have already mentioned that our industry got hit pretty hard – which meant reducing any unnecessary costs. And thus, my lessons never happened. Nor they will in the nearest future as the situation hasn’t changed much.

Although most of my resolutions ended up in a failure, there were some bright points in the previous year that made it feel a bit more successful.

WHAT I DID MANAGE TO DO IN 2020

1. COMPLETE NANOWRIMO CHALLENGE

I believe this is the brightest and most vital point of last year. I wrote 50k of my future debut novel! I had started prepping for it in October, taking a month before the actual challenge to come up with the outline and to flesh out the characters. Even though the 50k that I’d written is nowhere near the conclusion to the story and I also already know that serious changes to the outline need to be made, I’m still proud that I stuck it out and wrote every day in November. After over a month of the draft setting in, I’m about to begin editing it any day now – which will result in heavy plot makeover and a new draft.

2. I DIDN’T CATCH COVID-19

I wear a mask. I disinfect every time I get into the car or come back home. I don’t use public transport. I do shopping 1-2 times a week only. I Skype. I stay at home.
I didn’t catch coronavirus nor had I tested positive for the antibodies. Which I pride myself in, especially that my mom is post-surgery and thus in the vulnerable group.
She didn’t catch it, either. Thank goodness.

3. I READ AND LISTENED TO A LOT IN JAPANESE

Upon checking my GoodReads page, I noticed that I actually read quite a bit in Japanese this year – I counted 35 mangas! Half of that number is one series, actually – it’s called “Life” by Suenobu Keiko (20 volumes). I highly recommend it! It’s a teen drama about bullying and standing up to your abusers.
I also listened to Japanese radio programs often – I have a list of my favourites, but I can’t recommend 超A&G+ channel enough – it includes tons of programs hosted by famous Japanese seiyuu (their schedule is available on the website, if you’re interested) and it can be listened to even outside Japan (I’m connecting to it from Europe and the player on their website works no problem)! My personal favourite remains Saturday’s エジソン – a pop culture broadcast with Eguchi Takuya and Takahashi Minami.

So, what about the resolutions for this year?

I’m not making any grandiose plans. My greatest goal is to tackle NaNoWriMo again as well as to finish the draft of my first novel and move towards its publication. Apart from that, I hope to survive 2021 and that life will, mostly, get back to normal as the year unfolds. I hope it does for everyone else out there, too.

Posted in About me, Attitude, Changes, Motivation, Plans, Reading, Video games

LONG TIME NO SEE! HERE I AM, AGAIN!

Hi there! It’s Mikuwashi! お久しぶりですね!

It’s been quite a long time since I last posted so most probably you have been wondering where I had gone or whether I intend to continue this blog at all. The answer is very much “Yes”! The truth is, life has gone in my way and changed a lot of things. On February 16th my Mom had had an accident: she broke her leg and had to be hospitalised. As we both live and run a business together, everything fell on my back to pick it up and handle alone. Later, as it is probably for a lot of other people, the coronavirus hit and life changed further with uncertain future overshadowing (especially in our business industry). Currently, our situation’s slowly getting back to normal so I can get back to focusing on stuff I enjoyed and did pre-accident and pre-pandemic. Before I start writing other Japanese-related posts, however, I thought you deserve an update.

Many of you asked me about my JLPT N3 results. I did post them on my Instagram account along with the screenshot but I will reveal them here as well.

I will be very immodest saying this but the truth is I did great! I passed the exam and my overall score was 164 out of 180 points! I did best in the listening section, snatching a perfect score, yet my grammar and reading sections points weren’t that much worse! I got 49 out of 60 points from the Language Knowledge (that is, for vocabulary, kanji and grammar questions) as well as 55 out of 60 points in the reading section (that means I just answered one question wrong)! Obviously, I couldn’t be happier with my results and I personally think of them as a perfect conclusion to my N3 studies.

Speaking of studying, here comes bad news. Over the last few months, although I did keep in touch with Japanese, I rarely studied to make progress into N2 studies. I haven’t started them at all, honestly. I mostly read and played games in Japanese, quite extensively. I hope that because my Mom’s slowly recovering and the situation’s also gradually getting back to how it used to be, I would be able to sit at my desk again and study towards that N2 level.

Here I am very pleased to announce that I have made significant progress when it comes to reading! I started to read a lot and have been beating my personal records for the amount I’m able to read – as of now, my record is 6 manga volumes in one day! I have never thought I would be able to overcome that fatigue that hits you after you input a certain amount of Japanese during one day. I guess the most helping factor was me starting Persona 4 Golden as well as Persona 5 Royal in Japanese – a game franchise I had conquered in English before, therefore I didn’t have to worry about understanding the plot but still spend quite many hours a day playing those titles. As a result, I have finished 2 Persona games now (i.e. Persona 5 Royal and Persona 5 Scramble) and there’s only one title left for me to finish this year so I complete the New Year’s resolution I had made in one of the blog posts back in January.

Speaking of reading, I have started reading aloud quite a lot and grew to notice that actually, this is something that also boosts your reading skills. It all started with a Reading Aloud Challenge which was held on a Japanese learners discord group I had joined a few months prior. I decided to take part in the challenge and grew to enjoy reading live, much to my surprise. It was very stressful at first but I’m gradually getting used to it and thus enjoying it more and more with every session. Much recommended!

As for new resources I started to utilise recently, I have to mention Japanese seiyuu radio programs for sure. I discovered 超A&G+ radio channel (which is available online) and found out that many of my favourite male seiyuu actually host their own programs there! They aren’t easy to understand, as they speak with natural pace as well as they use a lot of vocabulary I don’t know. That doesn’t faze me, however, and I enjoy listening to those a lot! I even found the courage to write a fan letter to one of the programs and actually sent it! I felt so ashamed a few days after I had done it and the letter wasn’t read during the program (the hosts read a few fan letters aloud and answer them during the program), too, but it was an experience I had never gone through before (not even in my native tongue!), yet I found it refreshing and pleasant. I also felt a little proud that I sent it, gotta admit.

So, as the summer starts, here begins the next step of my Japanese journey. I hope you’ll hop on the ride and will be able to enjoy it with me. See you soon with a new post!

Posted in About me, Attitude, Changes

NEW YEAR, NEW MORNINGS

For the past few years, I had real trouble with my sleeping patterns. I had always considered myself to be a classic night owl – that is, a person who goes to bed late and wakes up late. Given the fact that first, my university schedule and then my job allowed such a lifestyle, I never tried to change it. What is more, I could still remember how much I hated getting up for school as a child and a teen. I was never rested enough and my brain usually started functioning properly around 10 am.

However, maintaining such a routine for the past few years, when I hit my late 20s, started to backfire on me. I didn’t have as much energy or didn’t regenerate as fast as I used to. Going to bed in the early hours meant I had to sleep well till noon – which is not possible every day when you have pets that need feeding and walking and/or a full-time job. I was often disturbed by outside noises or my family bustling around woke me up, too. All this resulted in a very unhappy and sleepy person that I had become. I got grumpy and pouty in the mornings, lazy and napping throughout the whole day – because I was constantly lacking sleep and necessary energy. 

The more my 30th birthday was closing in, the more desperate I became for some kind of a change. I think I crossed the line over last December when we had holidays at work. My sleeping pattern changed again, I went to sleep around 5 or 6 am and woke up at 3 pm – I had time off so I could do that. I probably don’t have to tell you how dangerous that was during wintertime, going to bed when the sun was rising and waking up when it was getting dark outside. It really f*cked up something inside me, living almost without sunlight for around 2 weeks.

In consequence, when the new year started, I realised that if I don’t do something, it is going to get really bad. I had this feeling of impending doom of some sort – it could probably have been my health or common sense speaking.

Luckily, on the morning of January 1st, I woke up unusually early. It wasn’t super early, but 9 am was definitely earlier than my typical 12 or 1 pm. Due to the fact that I went to bed late after New Year’s Eve celebration, I felt tired. Normally I would go to bed to take a nap, but I stayed up. Thanks to that, I was so tired at 10 pm that I went straight to bed. On January 2nd I woke up a little past 6 am of my own volition, with no alarm clocks or crying pets responsible for that. Just my body clock.

Having had straight 8 hours of sleep, I felt more rested than usual. I didn’t become a volcano of energy all of a sudden, but I surely felt different. Not so angry, not so tired. In split second I decided that I have to abuse that new state of affairs. I got up so that I wouldn’t fall asleep again and tried to stay up throughout the whole day so I could hit the hay before midnight.

Unfortunately, I had a crisis between 5 and 6 pm. It was the standard time when I took a nap. My eyelids were failing me and begging to go to bed to sleep. However, I knew that if I gave in, I could forget about changing my sleeping pattern. I was sitting on an armchair and finally decided to succumb to my body requesting recharging – but on the armchair. I laid my head on the armrest (our living room armchairs have such wide armrests that you can place a plate or a mug on it no problem – I even keep my 13” laptop there and it doesn’t fall off) and dozed off. I was able to kill two birds with one stone – I took a nap, but my bent position was so uncomfortable that I woke up around 30 minutes later. I still felt sleepy but rested enough to survive till 10 pm. And so I did.

Later, each and every day was getting easier. I discovered some new things about me and my body. That little change sparked other small changes in several toxic habits of mine. Below I’m going to describe what I noticed about myself thanks to altering my biological clock, week by week for the first month.

WEEK 1 (Jan 1 – Jan 7)

  • I enjoy the silence and studying in silence (in contrast to playing some BGM on my studying playlist or watching a show in the background like it was in the past). And early mornings actually work in my favour – most of my family isn’t up yet, so I get some peace and quiet until they are. This little observation also had an influence on my Japanese studies – I started to study in the morning, not in the evening like it used to be, so I can “tick it off” and shift my focus onto other things that need my attention, not necessarily connected to studying.
  • What is more, I have better study sessions in the mornings. I can do more in less time because I’m full of energy and thus more productive. The fact that you have the whole day before you also contributes to that increased productivity – since you’re not in a rush and have plenty of time to study what you want to, you tend to take your sweet time and enjoy it more. Also, your brain isn’t overloaded with your job or school yet, so why not use its potential to make some serious progress until your energy burns out?
  • I also noticed that the days are so long! I’m actually eager to go to bed and have a proper rest at the end of the day because I already had enough! That also counts for having enough time to do everything that you planned or simply had to do on that day.
  • I abuse my morning energy doing the heaviest work then – that means writing, studying or brainstorming. Later, I work and in the evenings I relax with a TV series or a book (but a book in English or Polish, not Japanese – I read in Japanese in the mornings, as a part of my study session).
  • I love sunrises much more than sunsets (and I used to believe that it was the opposite)! I can’t get enough of them (even though that by the time this will be posted, it will already be a whole month of admiring sunrise!).
  • Better productivity in terms of my studies is one thing, but I also noticed that productivity at my job also increased! Because I get some time to myself in the mornings, I’m much more eager to go to work and do my job. I also do things faster (up to a certain moment – but that’s one of the observations I had later – at first I was super excited to be able to stick to my resolution at all, I guess).
  • Because I get my quiet alone time in the mornings when everybody’s still asleep, I’m more content and happy throughout the day and get less angry, actually. I’m a person who naturally pursues solitude at some point in the day and if I don’t get my daily dose of ‘solitary confinement’, my short fuse kicks in and everything starts to irritate me quite fast, especially human contact.

WEEK 2 (Jan 8 – Jan 15)

  • Getting up gets more difficult, I’m not feeling as rested as in the first week, but I have no problems getting off the bed (thanks for the dogs). The problem is that I wake up while being under the impression that it can’t be 6 am yet because I feel so sleepy. Nothing has changed, I go to bed around 10 pm, but wake up 6:30-ish am rather than at 6 o’clock like in the first week.
  • I started being less productive in the mornings. I don’t feel like studying at all at times, so lazying around also happens but I still try to read a chapter in Japanese daily (which works for most ‘lazy’ days).
  • I’m still bewitched by sunrise.
  • I can keep up with work till 9 pm (that happens on Tuesdays and Wednesdays) but I’m consistent and go to bed at 10 pm even if I finished worked barely an hour before. For now, working long hours have no substantial influence on my tiredness and falling asleep fast. It means that even though I am still in the middle of work at around 9 pm, I don’t feel tired or sleepy. It kind of hits me later, when I finish work, so it doesn’t hamper me falling asleep.
  • My bedtime reading routine is a lifesaver and I have read 4 books (books as in genuine books, not mangas) so far thanks to it. I also bought more books because of it…

WEEK 3 (Jan 16 – Jan 23)

  • I got used to waking up early and I feel guilty when I laze around in bed.
  • I sometimes feel tired when I wake up. However, I found out that it’s probably connected with eating right before bed. Basically, if I eat past 6 pm when I go to bed before 10 pm, I feel tired (as my body spends the night digesting rather than replenishing the energy).
  • I get even lazier in the mornings, I don’t know where the time flies sometimes.
  • Also, the weather’s getting worse (it was quite sunny in the first 2 weeks so I was getting a lot of sun exposure when I sat at the kitchen table). Exposing yourself to sunlight is yet another thing I noticed that has a considerable influence on me. It boosts my energy levels tremendously and immediately puts me in a good mood. If the weather’s more cloudy, it works less (but still does, a little). For this reason, I try to sit at the kitchen table (which is right next to a big window facing the east, so I get to ‘look the sun in the face’) rather than laze around on the sofa – it’s located further into the living room, away from the windows. Also, sitting at a table triggers productivity – I’m less tempted to browse social media and prefer to write something (a blog post or the draft of my novel) or study Japanese instead.
  • Energy outbursts still occur and I can still do a lot of stuff in such outbursts. I also noticed that being productive is dependent on you actually making yourself do it – sleeping enough and getting up early just facilitate doing stuff faster so that you can have the rest of the day off.
  • I’m having minor trouble falling asleep, I suspect that it can be connected to lack of exercise. I mostly get my exercise by walking my dogs and working in the garden. Obviously, in winter it isn’t possible to do the gardening outside. However, most winters I was able to overcome this disadvantage by shovelling the snow instead. Yet, this winter is so mild that we have got little snow which didn’t require much shovelling. As a result, I had to remove excessive snow maybe two or three times only (and the snow season usually starts in November)! In winter, I also don’t walk my dogs as far as I do during other seasons (for instance, in summer I walk around 4-5 km a day with my dogs! Which is a big number because as I’m living in the mountains, going for a ‘walk’ actually means hiking), so I do less exercise.
  • My dogs eat earlier and I shifted their mealtimes by an hour, this way I can walk them after their dinner before the sun sets (which adds up to me doing some exercise).
  • I also eat breakfast regularly now. I start off with my usual morning coffee, of course, but approximately an hour later I cook myself breakfast. I noticed that because I eat in the morning, I’m not as tempted to snack in the evening as I used to. The only exception to this rule are days with long hours at work – as I get short breaks in-between meeting clients, I have little time to eat anything and then end up catching up on food after work. This is why I know I have to start preparing my lunch and dinner for such days in advance, so I just have to heat it up and wolf down on it. But here’s when early mornings come in useful! Apart from studies, I also have time to do some shopping and prep the meals for later, which wasn’t possible when I used to get up around noon.

WEEK 4 (Jan 24 – Jan 31)

  • I have finished establishing my bedtime routine. It starts at roughly 7-8 pm and ends between 9-10 pm. I start off with airing my bedroom out. Then I turn all of my electronic devices off (meaning that browsing social media or even using an online dictionary is off-limits past that step) and then I read something – a book or a manga, its language does not really matter (though I feel it works even better if I read something in Polish). After 8 pm I walk my dogs for the last time. Then I come back to prep myself for sleeping, that means taking a bath, doing my evening skin and teeth care, and changing into my nightgown. Then I read again until my eyelids start to droop. It usually happens past 9 pm. I listen to my body and go to bed, just closing the windows before I hit the hay. It usually takes me less than 10 mins to fall asleep this way.
  • I shouldn’t eat food past 6 pm and definitely not something rich in saturated fats (like my favourite potato crisps), I sleep the worst on such nights.
  • I feel most rested when I go to bed between 9 and 10 pm and get 9 hours of sleep. That seems to be my optimal amount. Consequently, I need to start my prep for bed routine around 8 pm if I want to finish it during that preferable time period.
  • Weather also influences my energy levels and sleep. I sleep worse on windy or frosty nights as well as during full moon (but I had known that one before I even started this experiment, to be honest; it became much more noticeable during its course, that’s all). It’s easier to start the day when it’s sunny or at most partially cloudy so that I’m able to catch a bit of the sun on my face.
  • Getting up early already became a habit: my internal body clock wakes me up between 6:30 and 7:30 even if I went to bed around midnight. I also feel guilty when it’s past 10 pm and I’m still not in bed or during the final reading phase.

I hope that, if you’re struggling with your own sleeping pattern or daily routine, those reflections would spark changes for you and in you as well. I wish you very good luck if you want to repeat what I had done in the last 30 days. Don’t give up if you fail to stick to the routine a day or two – just get back to it every time and work on changing it! The results are so worth it!

Posted in JLPT, Kanji, Study methods

HOW TO PRACTISE KANJI

I’m being asked one particular question quite often:

How do you practise [choose a language skill]?

I’m always eager to answer any language learning questions (especially concerning my way of doing things) when people approach me, but after some time of giving the same answers, I realised that writing a post like this might be a good idea to sum up my observations and solutions (i.e. used by me). Or, ideally, writing a few posts should serve this purpose, each entry covering a different language skill.

I will be mostly focusing on how I practise them in terms of Japanese, however, this advice is so versatile it can be applied to other languages learnt as a foreign language. In the very first entry, I’m going to concentrate on kanji, however, so it might also prove useful with languages that require memorising an alphabet distinct to the one(s) you already know. In the future, I will also discuss reading, writing, listening, grammar, vocabulary as well as speaking. I’m about to start taking conversation lessons, so I will be able to include this aspect’s pros and cons too, yet I do believe that there are other ways of practising your speaking skills which do not require attending a class.

But first – how to learn and take a liking to learning kanji?

I personally love learning kanji. I remember that when I had mastered hiragana and katakana, my sensei warned me that we were about to enter a new phase in learning Japanese and she was actually nervous if I would manage learning kanji. It was mostly because I was so reluctant when it came to learning the basic Japanese syllabaries (I memorised them 1 day prior to the deadline I was given). Needless to say, she needn’t have worried, because as soon as I received a worksheet with my first kanji to commit to memory (the ones for numbers), I was just hooked. I felt too good to learn them and somehow it was easier than hiragana or katakana. I asked my sensei to give me more on the next lesson, even though I was given 2 weeks to learn the first batch properly.

My sensei was also the first person who introduced certain methods of acquiring kanji to me. As a former university student who majored in Japanese and held an MA in Japanese philology, she was required to master large numbers of kanji every year she spent at university – it wasn’t surprising she learned a trick or two to doing so quickly. Thanks to her advice, I came up with my own system of learning and revising kanji later.

However, currently, I’ve already altered the old system slightly and have been using it for the past year quite successfully. Yet, there are some things I did notice that had worked better in the older system than they do in the new one. As a result, I’m going to present both systems I’ve used during my Japanese journey: the old one and the new one.

Column titles from the left: kanji, kunyomi, onyomi, meaning, compounds. The meanings as well as the compounds’ translations are written in Polish, my native tongue.

OLD SYSTEM (N5-N4 LEVELS)

As I have mentioned before, the core of this system was introduced to me by my first sensei but over the time I added a few features myself. However, everything revolved around one particular element: a kanji compendium.

I shifted the notebook to the side. The boxes were larger, the table longer and they could fit more content that way.

My kanji compendium is, basically, a large notebook in which I registered all kanji I have ever learnt. Every page contained a table with 5 columns: kanji (with their stroke order marked), kunyomi, onyomi, meaning and compounds. As my knowledge of kanji grew, so did my compounds. It means that at first, I wrote the readings for kanji I hadn’t known in hiragana instead and, as I continued to learn, I could write more and more compounds without using hiragana.

Apart from the compendium, I usually kept a notebook or a notepad, though occasional loose sheets of paper also worked for the next step: writing the kanji and its kunyomi and onyomi from memory. I usually opened my compendium at the very beginning and began the revision process from there. Later, as I hit several hundred entries, I started to review them in batches. For instance, one day I would go over kanji numbered from 200 till 300, then 301 till 400 and so on.

I usually wrote readings with Latin alphabet, especially back then – it was faster than using kana.

This also worked for freshly learnt kanji – I used to skip towards the end of the compendium and began revising in the reverse order. Sometimes I revised fresh kanji for a few days straight, to make them stick. This was especially true for kanji with numerous strokes or only one or two uses (which, in consequence, I encountered rarely in reading passages) – they were much harder to remember.

There were several advantages and disadvantages of the old system. I have put them in two lists for a better transparency:

Advantages:

  • cheap, any notebook can work as a compendium (I personally recommend a hardcover notebook, though – mine is 12 years old now and only a bit tattered, though pages inside had gotten loose – I could only imagine what a softcover would look like after such long time),
  • great if you don’t have printed materials or use online resources for studying as you can compile your knowledge into a single physical notebook,
  • knowledge sticks better and for a longer time (after my 4-year break I could still write and remember most readings for N5 kanji thanks to that),
  • more attention is paid to kanji’s proper stroke order and its readings rather than its compounds.

Disadvantages:

  • slower process of learning which requires more reviews,
  • inputting new kanji into compendium takes time (you have to write the entries and the table as well),
  • once an entry is written, it cannot be changed. After you learn more, some compounds you input are too easy or turn out to be unnecessary (because as you make progress, you learn what words occur more or less often; at first, I was blindly rewriting them from a dictionary or a textbook because I had no experience in deciding which one would be useful later yet. Of course, if you use an erasable pen or a pencil, that’s another story, but when I started learning, Frixon pens didn’t exist in my country yet),
  • easy to input the same kanji twice or more times (for this reason, after I hit 300+ entries, I created a spreadsheet to quickly check if I had written a kanji in my compendium before).
One of my first entries back on N5 level (meaning those entries are around 10 years old now! Look how the pen ink has bled to the other side of the page!)

Now, let’s put this system into a few easy steps to follow:

  1. Find new kanji to learn (either from your textbook, JLPT prep book, manga or any other resources you are using at the moment),
  2. Create an entry in the compendium (include the kanji itself along with its stroke order, readings, meaning and a few compounds),
  3. Practice the kanji in a blank notebook, notepad or a sheet of paper: try to recall the meaning first, then write down the readings. Repeat for as many kanji as you want or as many as you are learning in the batch.
  4. Repeat every other day. Reduce the time gap as it sticks in your memory.

Remember to prepare space for your compendium entries in advance to save time and not to lose focus when you are studying!

With 差 you can see that I practised the readings first and then switched to its compounds

NEW SYSTEM (N3 LEVEL):

When I restarted my Japanese journey, I stuck to the old system for kanji review. It was understandable – I had such a long break that I could barely remember basic kanji. I was fine with the N5 ones, but post 150+ ones were a challenge then. As a result, I had to first remember what kanji I had learnt before and my compendium was a marvellous option for that – after all, it contained all the characters I have ever learnt.

I had never thought of including compounds in my past reviews somehow – this element appeared in the new system and was one of the reasons why I decided to change things a little bit. Another reason was that as I began N3 studies, I realised how many kanji I have to master before I could take JLPT. N5 level is a breeze, N4 is not so much worse but N3 is basically twice as many characters to learn.

After around one month of using my old system for N3 kanji, I noticed that my progress was slow and it was already May. The exam was only half a year away. There was no way I was going to make it in time if I stuck to the old system so I started making changes.

Incidentally, those changes coincided with me purchasing some Japanese kanji practice notebooks. Those are notebooks used by Japanese school kids when they learn their writing systems and contain big squares with a side rectangle to write furigana. What’s more, you can choose different sizes of the squares – I personally use the 150 size (meaning there are 150 boxes per page; the pages being B5 size) but I’m thinking of trying the 200 size in the future. In essence, the lower the number, the fewer boxes there are on the page – those might work great for young children who are learning how to write at all but if you already know how to hold a pen and write, you don’t need such large squares. Unless that’s what you fancy, of course!

At first, I just practised writing the signs in the notebook and completely ignored the furigana feature. But I soon realised that utilising it might prove useful in the studies and enhance my learning speed. It also worked well with So-matome N3 kanji prep book since the characters taught are divided based on how they work together in compounds. It’s no wonder I soon began writing kanji compounds instead of singular signs as I had done before.

That’s what a kanji notebook looks like inside. First you’ve got the kanji box and then furigana box to its right. On the right page you can see new kanji being learnt – hence the repetition of 厚 or 泣, for instance. On the left page I reviewed kanji acquired before thus only the compounds appear.

Of course, when I learn a new kanji, I first start with learning how to write it properly (that is, keeping the correct stroke order) and focus on its kunyomi reading as it mostly is an existing word already (or it becomes one if you add an affix; I usually like to spare the kanji boxes and write suffixes and prefixes in furigana space).

After that, I add and repeatedly write down compounds and shift my focus to onyomi. As I’ve mentioned before, this is why So-matome kanji books work so well for me – they give you a character, its readings as well as compounds so I don’t even have to check a dictionary at first. I do later, though, especially if I’m aware that a certain kanji appears in some other words I already know or I want to further explore the character’s use.

This system also works well with the old system’s kanji revision – instead of the compendium being the base, however, a prep book was used. I tailored my reviews to how the book’s chapters were structured. The chapters also imposed how many signs I reviewed each session. Again, I could do plenty or I could just stick to the last batch learnt if it still felt too fresh in my memory.

Now, let’s summarise the system’s pros and cons.

Advantages:

  • more attention is paid to kanji shape and stroke order, resulting in more accurate shape as well as memorisation,
  • much faster, better suited for higher levels of JLPT where the number of characters to master increases significantly with each level,
  • writing in a kanji notebook is immensely visually satisfying and repeating the same character over and over brings a certain pleasure,
  • works well with JLPT prep books,
  • takes less time to study (no compendium is kept, the studies are based on textbooks),
  • easier to remember readings when you remember words the kanji is used in, rather than learning readings by heart without the context.

Disadvantages:

  • More expensive as importing kanji notebooks cost more than a standard notebook you can find in the stores near you (not to mention the costs of importing them),
  • Recalling readings is more difficult as they are mainly remembered and recalled through compounds (so if you don’t remember the compounds, you most likely won’t remember the onyomi),
  • also requires frequent reviews, especially when the kanji is still fresh, but the learning and reviewing process is much faster,
  • there isn’t any collective compendium that stores all the kanji you have learnt to serve as a general guide (however, I later bypassed this disadvantage by creating an Excel spreadsheet and inputting all the kanji I have actively learnt – including the ones from the compendium – into it). 

Now, let’s put this new system into an easy step-by-step guide as well:

  1. Find new kanji to learn (either from your textbook, JLPT prep book, manga or any other resources you are using at the moment). If you’re using a textbook or a prep book, do the chapter first: highlight new words (be it kanji’s readings or compounds it creates) and do the exercises for the chapter. If you’re using So-matome series for this, the chapters are only 2 pages long and take around 10-15 minutes to wrap up,
  2. Open your kanji notebook and write down the first kanji to practise how it is written. Focus on kunyomi first (you can save boxes in your notebook by including affixes in the furigana space; I usually place a dot between kunyomi and the affix),
  3. Check the kanji’s compounds. If your textbook doesn’t provide many or you don’t feel content with the number it does provide, check the dictionary (either a kanji dictionary or a general dictionary such as jisho.org). Write them down with their reading in furigana space. If you feel that you know some compounds by heart, you can skip them or swap them with some new ones.
  4. Repeat for all kanji in the chapter.

Apart from the two systems, there were other things I have tested to boost my kanji learning. I have summarised them in the section below.

ADDITIONAL CONCLUSIONS:

  • putting kanji in Anki didn’t work, even though I tried dividing each kanji into several flashcards, each asking about a different aspect of it so that I could revise, for instance, kunyomi, onyomi, the meaning, sample compounds, and even stroke order (!) separately. The spaced repetition system was unsuitable for such kanji review because I had no power over the order in which the flashcards were presented to me. It led to absurd situations such as Anki asking me to provide the readings first and later checking if I could write the same kanji for memory – which, of course, didn’t work as it should when I was shown the very same character just a second ago.
  • the same situation happened for kanji apps – there wasn’t even one I had stuck to (including the famous Kanji Tree) but it’s my personal preference to learn kanji by writing them on paper and even using a stylus to write on a screen wasn’t as appealing as writing the characters down with a pen. If you like using apps to study and you’re up to giving kanji apps a go, then, by all means, do it!
  • I don’t recommend learning all kanji you encounter; focus on them either by their JLPT level or their jouyou level (order in which Japanese kids learn the kanji at school). Most of the high-level kanji are used less often than the ones from, for instance, first grades of Japanese primary school or N5-N4 JLPT levels. My compendium has always included kanji I learnt as they were introduced in textbooks or JLPT prep books. If I stumble upon an unknown kanji while reading, I tend to ignore it unless it appears multiple times over a short period of time – that’s when I check the dictionary.
    However, I do not create an entry because of that. As a result, there’s a slight discrepancy between how many kanji I can recognise and how many I can recall from memory. This is perfectly normal and happens to everyone so do not beat yourself up when it happens to you. After all, it wouldn’t be fun to read a book or play a game if you had to stop every second to look up some kanji and then write them down in a notebook… Been there, done that and I stopped doing it because it killed all the fun of reading. I touched this topic in my post about reading without using a dictionary but I intend to delve into it a little bit more when I write an entry about why I skipped using a notebook entirely.
  • of course, just learning kanji from general or dedicated textbooks won’t work, you have to encounter those characters in real contexts and authentic materials. Which is why I recommend implementing those into your studies from the very beginning (for absolute beginners you can find easy readers tailored to their limited experience, for example). Reading real manga, book, playing a game or even watching a show with Japanese subtitles (seriously, try the latter one, you won’t believe how effective it is) makes all the difference. Plus it boosts your vocabulary and grammar knowledge. As much as I like writing down all those kanji in my practice notebook and revise them, I can recognise many more characters thanks to how many authentic materials I snort daily. Obviously, that leads to the discrepancy I’ve mentioned above – there are lots of kanji I can recognise as I see them but I cannot write them down from memory. Anyway, suck in as much real context, not just the scientifically engineered for textbooks ones. Trust me, it will help all your Japanese language skills tremendously.