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 Choices and sacrifices, Languages, Motivation, Study methods

2019 IN MY STUDY PLANER

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).

JANUARY 2019

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.

FEBRUARY 2019

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 2019

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.

APRIL 2019

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.

MAY 2019

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 2019

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.

JULY 2019

Oh, boy.
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.

AUGUST 2019

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.

SEPTEMBER 2019

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.

OCTOBER 2019

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.

NOVEMBER 2019

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.

DECEMBER 2019

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!

Posted in About me, Attitude, Languages, Motivation, Plans

MY 2020 STUDY GOALS

I had planned on taking the N3 level of JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Exam) for a few years. The problem was, I couldn’t stick to my studies. It was a week or two maximum before I would give up again. I thought self-studying wasn’t for me. I thought I needed an outer force – a teacher, to be exact – who would make me move forward.

Last year, however, proved that that assumption wasn’t true at all.

It all started with the same idea – it was the beginning of January, meaning making the classic New Year’s resolution i.e. “new year, new me”. Or in my case: “new year, new Japanese”. I honestly didn’t believe I would see it through. I mean, I really wanted it to finally work, but given the previous experiences – I didn’t put much belief in myself.

On the other hand, I felt a certain longing building deep inside me. Half a year since my university graduation had passed, a period that kind of got stuck inside my brain as a bare minimum necessary to recover after all that imposed studying, writing the master thesis and stuff I had to do during my university years. After I defended my thesis and got my diploma, I was tired, but somehow sure I would miss studying after some time – maybe half a year, maybe a full year. I hadn’t established any deadline for myself – instead, I trusted my instincts to tell me it was finally time.

In January 2019 I hadn’t done much any studying on the New Year’s Day. I hadn’t done much studying for the next 2 weeks either. It was somewhere in the middle of January (or as you would say this in Japanese, 中旬 [chuujun; middle 10 days of a month]) when I heard a sudden “calling” from inside. An idea of making a New Year’s resolution popped in my head and I decided to go with it on a whim. So I stood in front of my bookcase dedicated to Japanese resources and I grabbed a kanji textbook. I proceeded to sit down at my desk and began reviewing kanji, starting from the very basics because I was perfectly aware how much I had forgotten over the 4-year break from Japanese. When I finished studying that night, I felt great. I hadn’t studied for a long period, but it felt awesome anyway.

Funnily enough, I somehow knew at that point this wasn’t going to end the usual way.

I could sense a certain “fire” blazing inside and dancing around in happiness because I knew there, finally, wasn’t anything “more important” to study that would take my precious time with Japanese from me. Because I knew I wasn’t doing this for the sake of any grades, diplomas or somebody else’s requirements. No, it was me laying down the requirements and meeting them in any way I saw fit. It is this way till this day.

And I love it this way.

Later I came up with my 7 study rules and began further experiments with study methods, resources, tools and my attitude. All falling within a simple rule “do what you feel like doing, just continue to sit down and study”. I had no idea that such a plain rule would be so liberating as it was. And so motivating at the same time – honestly, I just went crazy after that first night. I continued to study every night after work, whether I was tired or not. I was so parched for Japanese that I just couldn’t stop. It became my after-work relaxation routine pretty fast – and I definitely hadn’t expected that it would last for 3 months straight in the slightest.

Around April the fire started to subside, but it didn’t die out. That was when I started taking days off when I felt overwhelmed. That was also when I made myself go back to studying every time after a short break, even if the guilt was crawling behind me. I ditched the shame, they were my studies and one should not be ashamed of who they are and how they decide to live their life or how to carry on with their studies.

That lack of shame became actually very important in July and August when I took massive breaks due to heatwaves, work, our new cat and general fatigue. Losing faith in myself have crossed my mind several times, but I managed to come back every single time.

Just make sure to return after every break, there are no self-punishments even if you take long.” – that was what I’d told myself. After all, studying isn’t tedious or excruciating – if you don’t make it so. It was yet another liberating rule that kept my fire going and going strong.

As this year is elapsing and the new one is getting close, I can’t help but remember what happened almost 12 months ago. At that time the only resolution was to restart (and keep) my journey with the Japanese language and perhaps prepare for JLPT N3 (which became my strong resolve somewhere around May), but in 2020 I’m determined to try new things and make new resolutions. Of course, I will continue my studies towards the next Japanese level, N2, but I won’t be taking JLPT in 2020. It’s going to happen in 2021 or 2022 at the very latest. Currently I’m aiming for December 2021.

I believe that less is more, so there aren’t going to be vast plans or endless lists of things I want to do this year. Instead, I limited them to the 3 most important things I wish to achieve in the upcoming year. Choosing a small number of resolutions also accords with my superior rule of not pressuring myself and letting myself study what I feel like at the moment, so this is all the more just.

Besides, I did create lists with various priorities for the year 2018 and 2019 – and they did not work out at all. In fact, I did my best to do everything BUT adhere to them. So that mistake is not going to repeat itself.

One more thing – I rejected resolutions based on numbers and limiters. In other words, I don’t do “learn 1000 words”, “do 100 grammar exercises”, “finish 2 textbooks” or “read 10 mangas” kind of thing anymore. Rejecting limiters means I do not tell myself what to study exactly. For the past 2 years, I’ve put in those long lists choices like “study from textbook A” or “finish course Y on website Z” and I had a hard time sticking to them because even if I felt like doing textbook B (which would lead me to the same result as textbook A would), I would feel guilty and, of course, I wouldn’t count textbook B as satisfying the condition I gave myself. So no more of such self-restraining resolutions anymore. 

MY 2020 JAPANESE-RELATED GOALS:

1. REPLAY PERSONA GAMES

I started (re)playing Persona 4 Golden over 3 weeks ago and it has been a fantastic ride so far. It clearly made me see how much progress I’ve achieved since I went back to studying Japanese. The feeling is even greater because I attempted to play a Persona game in Japanese before and had to put it away – the language was too overwhelming. As a part of this resolution I’m probably going to pick it up again (and, hopefully, finish it this time).

Of course, the fact that I’ve already conquered most of the Persona games in English before surely adds to my understanding and makes a certain calmness set in when playing the game – because I already know the plot and battle mechanics. I haven’t played those games in at least 2 years so I forgot most things that happen within the plot (especially the subplots). Besides, it’s also fun to find the differences between the English translation and the Japanese original (and, believe me, there are quite a lot!). 

Persona 5 Royal was waiting for me under the Christmas tree and Persona 3 Portable is on its way as I was able to find a decent deal on it on eBay. It’s definitely going to be a fun gaming year and I seriously want it to be like this. There are also several other games I want to play in Japanese which have been waiting for their turn, but I didn’t feel confident enough to give them a try. Maybe this is the year I will finally do.

However, I don’t want to impose any numbers or limiters on myself, so I’m not going to tell how many games I need to finish and which ones exactly. Again, I’ll just stand in front of my shelf and ask myself: “so, what do we feel like playing today, girl?

2. READ 1 VOLUME OF HARRY POTTER

In 2019 I read 1 volume of Harry’s adventures. Well, half a volume to be exact, since Japanese publication divided each volume into several parts so that the books are small, light and could easily fit into your pocket. I’ve read the first part of The Philosopher’s Stone, but I honestly don’t feel like reading the second part of it. Currently, I’m leaning towards The Prisoner of Azkaban, but that might change of course. I know the series by heart so I can jump into any volume I want anyways.

3. JOIN A CONVERSATION CLASS

This is something that has been on my mind for quite some time now. Speaking is the only skill which I have not real opportunity to practise in self-studying. My country is quite homogenous so it’s not like I could have Japanese neighbours all of a sudden. They’re even a hard find in larger cities and I’m a small-town girl now. Obviously, any language schools and courses are out of the question because there simply aren’t any nearby.

As a result, I seriously started thinking of taking online classes because that’s something you can do literally from anywhere in the world nowadays. I could find myself a Japanese native speaker this way, too, just to raise that bar and ditch the safety of my mother tongue or English.

To tell the truth, I’m already so pumped to start and had even researched private tutors I’m going to ask for, but I want to wait till February to start the classes themselves – after all, I promised myself that they were going to be a reward for passing JLPT. The results will be posted online between January and February, so that’s why I’m opting for a February start. It’s also going to cost money and not just once, but it will become a part of our regular monthly spendings, so I need to make sure I’m ready and deserve that little indulgence of mine. After all, we tend to appreciate things more if we put our blood, sweat and tears into something we really wanted.

To be honest, I’m also quite scared when I think of that first lesson. I know it’s going to be fine later when we break the ice and start talking, but I’m as nervous as any other person who decides to go 1-on-1 with a native speaker and talk in a foreign language. It’s funny, though, because I don’t feel such fear when speaking English. But who am I deceiving – I was scared sh*t when I went to England for the first time and at that time there was no other way but to communicate in English. And I was perfectly fine after a few days so it’s going to be perfectly fine after those first few lessons, too. I strongly believe that.

Posted in Attitude, Choices and sacrifices, Motivation, Study methods

THE IMPORTANCE OF MAKING CHOICES AND SACRIFICES

I really like Instagram. Sure, I like Facebook too, but I truly grew to like Instagram over the last 3 years since I opened @mikuwashi. At the moment, I’m following a variety of accounts: bullet journal-related, watercolour-related, Japan-related and a few months ago so-called language studygrams joined my “following” list, too.

As more and more posts uploaded by self-study language learners started to pop out in my feed, I began to notice that while most of the posts had this positive undertone in regard to that person’s studies, some posts were of complaining or demotivational nature, like: “I’m studying X atm, such a pain” or “I finally finished topic X, almost died doing it”. I often approached such people via dm (as I find it completely understandable that most people don’t like some pointing-out remarks being thrown in their face in the comment section) and asked them WHY they are/were studying such a topic then if it doesn’t “spark joy” in them (if we were to quote Marie Kondo’s famous words). 

Here’s a quick remark – I’m not talking about topics people find difficult for them. Everyone has their strong and weak spots in terms of topics, grammar structures, even words (some of them just can’t stick, no matter what you do to remember them). In such cases, it’s only natural that people need more time to grasp a particular term or structure that they find confusing – it depends on a person and is completely normal. It’s also a separate issue when you’re going to school or university and the teachers ask you to learn something because it’s in the curriculum and you need to learn it in order to pass a subject or to get a better grade. Yet, as I’ve already underlined in one of my previous posts, I believe it’s possible to give yourself room for choice and freedom in your official education. Just not as much as you can when studying on your own. However, here I’m talking about learning a topic, vocabulary or some other aspect of a language or target culture that doesn’t interest you or that you find completely unnecessary in your studies, yet you go over it anyway – just „BECAUSE”.

Most people I asked were independent learners and they were unable to tell why exactly they do that. Some even gave it a longer thought because it had never occurred to them before that they HAVE A CHOICE not to follow the textbook 100%. “Because it’s in the book and I do it from cover to cover”, “because I saw other people learning it so I’m doing it too” or “because I have to” – those were most common answers I received. But another question immediately popped in my head: who imposes this topic it on you if you’re self-studying? The answer is simple: only yourself. So why aren’t you questioning your material? Why don’t you stop for a second and give yourself room to think: do I really need this?

Why do we tend to learn everything we encounter without filtering information? For example, if we have just started our journey with a language and right now we’re learning its first grammar aspects like basic tenses, why do we tend to learn ALL the uses of a particular tense? “Because I won’t have to go back and learn it later” – sure, but are you going to use all, give or take, 7 uses of Present Simple (if you’re learning English)? Do you really need to know that you can use it to comment a football match or is the fact, that you can use it to talk about your daily routine enough for a beginner?

Of course, you don’t need to know that and you even shouldn’t. At least not in the beginning – unless you want to feel as if you’re going in circles without making any progress as you’re too focused on stopping and learning everything there is instead of moving forward. Give yourself time, you’re not going to become fluent in one day. There will come a day when that match commentary will be crucial to you and that’s when you will learn that Present Simple can be used there. You have to realise that fluency is a long journey, it takes a lot of time and effort and (unfortunately) it never ends – languages evolve and change all the time, so we have to update our knowledge. Instead, be patient and do things at your own pace – don’t look how fast the others are going, don’t get discouraged that somebody could grasp a particular topic faster than you – they’re probably thinking the same thing when you breeze through something else they found difficult and time-consuming.

This is one of the reasons I love “Try!” books so much (grammar books for Japanese). They’re divided by their JLPT level (where level 1 is the highest, advanced, and level 5 is the lowest, elementary) and even if some structure was introduced on the elementary level, they gradually present its additional uses in the next books. For example, in the book for N4 level, I learned that なら (nara) is used to create a conditional sentence. In the book for N3, I learned that besides the conditional, you can also use it to make a suggestion or to give advice. Providing information bit by bit is something I truly appreciate in grammar books – instead of throwing all there is to know about a structure in your face, they reveal more and more uses before you with each book, just as your language competency grows and you’re ready for that next twist.

Yet, even if we do pace ourselves and try to do things our way, why do we still treat textbooks as some kind of a bible that tells us what exactly needs to be studied? They don’t always cover everything, after all. It doesn’t include certain topics that you’re curious about – you’re left on your own trying to submerge into the Internet for answers and information. And also – why are we reluctant to skip something that doesn’t interest us or doesn’t bring pleasure but we decide to succumb to pain and endurance instead? Does covering all the material bring satisfaction? Yes, perfectionism brings pleasure somehow, but is it worth the discomfort and/or decrease of motivation?

The answer is simple: no, it isn’t.

It’s one of the first conclusions that had come to me, even before I graduated. I hated the fact that I was forced to study something I didn’t perceive as useful or interesting. It made me sick to my stomach to think of learning such material. There were times when I sat in the class and wondered “Hey, what am I doing here? I’m wasting my time.”

Do you want to waste your time?

Or do you want to feel you’re on the right track and making progress towards your goal?

Then make choices in your own studies.

But also learn to make sacrifices.

Because if you start to choose what to learn, you will have to sacrifice something at the same time. That’s what choices in studying means – they are intertwined with sacrifices. That’s exactly what happens when you take responsibility for your own studies rather than rely on somebody else’s judgement (like school’s, in form of a curriculum or teacher’s demands) in terms of the studied material. You have to learn to omit, to skip, to sacrifice things on your way towards fluency. TO omit, not HOW to omit. Before all else, you need to realise that you CAN actually omit stuff you don’t like or don’t want to learn. HOW to do that surfaces later and is a very personal matter – it’s all about you and your choices in the end. But first, take a breath and do that initial step – embrace the freedom of choice that was given to you and make the most of it. Because I’m guessing you’re gunning for that fluency, right? You want to understand your target language, speak it, devour it, chew it and then release your progress to the world?

After you start thinking about those two aspects, you’ve already become a different, more aware learner. This is something school doesn’t teach you, at least it didn’t teach me – it asked me to blindly follow what was imposed. So I did, I didn’t ask questions WHY we have to study this. Nobody taught me to think differently. But at some point, when my frustration was on the verge of exploding, I started questioning myself: does studying really have to look like that?

No, it doesn’t.

After realising that simple fact, your world of studying starts to change. It’s terrifying at first – you don’t yet know how to make that choice CORRECTLY. But let me reassure you – there’s no right or wrong here. It’s perfectly fine to make mistakes and take your decision back. Yes, they’re reversible! After all, you’re growing in your studies, you’re gaining knowledge, so of course your choices are going to differ, too. Heck, even things outside your studies change, you’re maturing as a person, your life situation and preferences become different – so obviously they’re going to influence the way you study and alter it.

My N4 vocabulary textbook with 3 types of vocabulary highlights I use

For instance, when I learn vocabulary, I tend to highlight words. I actually have a separate colour (grass green) dedicated to, as I call them, “bullsh*t” words that I choose to skip. This colour helps me recognise them and go “Oh, THAT word. What was it? (Checks the word) Oh. Okay. Let’s move on.” For example, when I was doing my vocabulary textbook for the N4 exam, I stumbled upon the word for the catholic church. I hovered over it with my usual highlighter for new vocabulary (orange) and then suddenly thought: “You know what? I don’t need this. I’m not going to waste my time memorising something I find unnecessary”. And that’s when I chose another highlighter for words I’m skipping. Why do I highlight them at all if I don’t want to pay attention to them? Simple enough: as I create flashcards, my eyes just search for any highlights on the page – if I see green, my brain already knows that even though it’s a new word, I can carry on looking for other highlights without bothering with the green ones. If I see orange, I know it’s a new one and needs to be added to my flashcards for sure.

To tell the truth, I use a third colour too – dirty yellow. It indicates that I had trouble recalling what that word meant but I have definitely encountered it before and I label it as necessary to my studies. What’s more, if I use that yellow to highlight, I leave myself a bit freedom, as it’s a signal that I can postpone the final choice whether I want to learn this word till the time flashcards will be made. As a result of such colour-coding, I don’t have to read the entire page again, I just scan it for highlights every time I create new flashcards.

You can actually see how I remade my decision on two words

The same situation happened with Japanese words 輸出 (yushutsu; export) and 輸入 (yunyuu; import), which I have highlighted with green at first, as I thought: “Hey, I’m not going to read stuff about economy, so I don’t need them”. The funny thing is, these two came back to bite me in the ass and I’ve encountered them numerous time since I first saw them in my vocabulary book, not only in economic context! So I went back and rehighlighted them with orange and then quickly added them to my flashcards.

This is one more thing that’s important about choices – don’t be ashamed of them. If it turns out you actually need something you initially omitted, don’t be afraid to MAKE YOUR CHOICE again and welcome something back in your studies. Nobody’s going to stick it to you and don’t let them if they try – you’re learning for yourself, not somebody else. Others don’t have to like it. YOU DO. YOU – and your choices – are the most important element of your studies.

Posted in About me, Attitude, Choices and sacrifices, Motivation

WHAT SHAPED MY CURRENT ATTITUDE TOWARDS STUDYING

As I sat down to write the post about the importance of making your own choices in studying, I realised that I should start with a little history of my own studying. “Why does she want to talk about herself?!” – you may think, but what I’m going to tell you about the choices was heavily influenced by my experiences as a student. I believe that you would be more likely to make the same connections I did when you get to know and understand what shaped my current attitude toward studying.

In primary, junior high and high school I was your typical model student. Not straight As, but I never did worse than 1-2 Cs on my school certificates (funnily enough, except for English classes – I had a very strict and demanding teacher back in junior high and I had a D in his class for 2 years straight! He let me graduate with a C in the end). I’ve always liked studying, it gave me satisfaction, yet I was something I would describe as “dumb learner” – I learned everything by heart as it was. I rarely made my choices when studying. I studied what the teachers told us to. Yes, I did read extra stuff I wanted to get to know more about (e.g. I liked and still like to learn more about space, stars and planets), but when it came to the classes’ content – I studied everything we covered and what was necessary to perform well in tests. Regularity was also the key, I studied every school day, did homework right after school. I used to walk around my room with a notebook and explained to myself the material we did in class. In this regard, I was never much of a fan of typical learning by heart. I preferred (and still do) to comprehend the topic and then try to explain it in my own words, often aloud (and while doing that walk around the room thing). It worked great while at school. But I later realised that it wasn’t going to work as great in academic environment.

If you have ever entered university, you know that the amount of material is impossible to master in full. There simply isn’t enough time to learn and research everything as deeply as you would want – unless you want to become a studying robot who doesn’t do anything other than sitting at their desk with a bunch of textbooks. Obviously, that didn’t work for me – I wanted to enjoy my university years as much as possible, make friends, gain some working experience perhaps.

As far as my first year was concerned, I was able to keep my old studying routine. But when I made it into my 2nd year and heavier and more difficult subjects kicked in, I had to quickly learn to make choices and sacrifices: what to focus on or if to study at all. Here’s a confession I have to make: there were times when I postponed studying as late as possible, there were exams I passed by sheer luck when I studied for them briefly before the exam (even just a few hours before it) or didn’t study at all. Here’s another confession – I’m not making it to boast, it’s simply important that you know – I have a very good memory and over the years I learned to use it pretty effectively in my learning process. Hence I was able to memorise the crucial points for an exam while most of my peers believed I spend DAYS preparing for the exam. The truth is, I was as lazy as other students. I just could pick stuff up more easily and quite skillfully predict what was most probable to appear on the exam.

In total, I spent 9 years as a university student (half of that time I was working full time as well) at 3 different universities with 3 different majors: finance and accounting, law and English philology. I only hold a degree – both BA and MA – from the last one, I dropped out from the first two after finding out it wasn’t something I want to do for a living. What’s more, the first two were my parents’ ideas, only English was my own choice, so it had to result in finally graduating and getting a degree. It’s one of the reasons I believe that, ultimately, YOU should be the one making the choices about your studies and future. You can be inspired, you can be given advice, but it’s YOUR CHOICE to make. It’s also fine to change your mind and dump something completely if you feel that pursuing it just isn’t worth it anymore. It’s yet another experience that affected my current attitude toward studying.

The years I invested in those majors made me a very experienced university student, but on the other hand, heavily affected my drive towards studying in general: it plummeted so deep I couldn’t see the bright side of it anymore. I started to find it bothersome and frustrating – not because of poor results, but because I was so desperate for freedom in my studies and more free time to delve into my private studies (namely, Japanese). As I grew up as an adult, I discovered that I’m a very independent person – and that feature also passed onto the way I study. I could barely make any choices as a student and that fact began to suffocate me, little by little – the content to study was imposed, textbooks decided for you and you also had to take the lecturer’s favourites into consideration, which rarely lined with your own. There were tons of, what I call it, “bullsh*t studying”, that is material that you either don’t need to learn by heart, because in normal circumstances you would check it in reliable sources (e.g. as a lawyer obviously you’re going to read that legal act and check for any updates and/or changes rather than relying on your memory) or material that doesn’t correspond to your interests or future career path. Not to mention you had to take “bullsh*t subjects” shared by most university majors (at least that’s how it works in Poland) like I.T., logic, economics or history of something you don’t give a sh*t about or of something that is totally outdated (I still remember that I had to LEARN BY HEART info on FLOPPY DISCS back in my 1st year. Come on, it was already late 2000s, nobody used or cared about them anymore)!

All those experiences resulted in a very frustrated and demotivated learner who couldn’t wait to finally graduate. I’m still proud that I actually managed to accomplish it – though I know I have to be grateful for my master thesis’ promoter who acknowledged my passion for Japanese and let me incorporate it into my MA thesis. It was the only thing that pushed me forward over that last year at university, making that MA degree possible.

Now here comes a good question: leaving the university so unmotivated, so genuinely sick of studying, how come I’m able to study again and I do it with pleasure (and also every day)?!

The answer is very simple: I knew I had to wait for some time and I would finally miss studying. And I wasn’t mistaken: in January 2019, I returned to my beloved Japanese, this time on my own, with my own rules and choices. As for how that happened in that period between my graduation and last January as well as what conclusions I drew, based on the experiences I described here, I’m gonna include that in my next post, as I promised. Let’s say the topic of making your own choices in studying is a two-part discourse with this way too long introduction I’ve just written. See you in part 2!

Posted in Motivation, Study methods

7 STUDY RULES I FOLLOW

1. DECIDE ON THE SPOT

That’s right. I do not plan what I’m going to study when I sit down to do it. I do not make grande plans like “I will do 3 chapters tonight” or “I will focus on book X tonight”. No, I don’t tell myself stuff like that. Instead, I sit down and ask myself: “So, what do I feel like doing tonight?” and I just do it. And it feels great!

Honestly, this was something I found so irritating at school and university. I had a set book to go over. I had set homework to do. I had a set chapter to read. I absolutely hated it! If the chapter was boring, I couldn’t skip it. If a paper or task was dull to write/do, I couldn’t skip it without damaging my grade.

But when I study on my own, of my own motivation – I can. I can skip exercises I don’t like. This is something I also learned to do – if an exercise is a bore, don’t do it. Don’t kill your motivation for the sake of finishing the whole book PERFECTLY. Go to the task you really wanna do. Of course, you have to be moderate with this, don’t skip all the tasks! 😉 I, for instance, tend to skip some writing exercises like WRITE A DIALOGUE, because those bore me to death. And I don’t feel guilty about doing that AT ALL.

Why? Because I noticed that forcing myself to do something I don’t wanna kills my motivation and I don’t want that to happen. Maintaining your motivation helps you sit down every day. Think about this – how many times, while at school, you got sick in your stomach simply THINKING that there’s this mundane homework that’s waiting for you on your desk? And you put off doing it for as long as it was possible? That’s what I’m talking about. It feels much, much better to make your own decisions about your studying process, rather than blindly following every exercise in a textbook or following just one textbook, when you really feel like reading a passage of that novel you bought the other day.

The other thing connected with this point is the amount of work you wanna do. As I wrote before, I do not plan to “do 3 chapters tonight”. Why? Because I’m a working adult with a family. If you share my situation, you know that sometimes plans don’t work out – you’re tired, your family needs you, something simply happens and needs your attention. This is another reason why I don’t plan – I do not feel guilty when something comes up. Yet, I try to do something daily. Even if it’s just flashcards revision, reading a little or watching an episode in my target language.

2. STUDY PLANNER

This was the first thing I did, even before I opened a textbook back in January 2019. It’s not my own solution, I once saw somebody do it on Instagram and I thought “this is it!”. As a bullet journal user, I can totally relate to writing down what you want to study on a particular day. However, I did my planner differently – I write down what I HAD DONE on a day. And it works wonders since it’s connected to no. 1 on this list – I’m not bound by plans. I simply go with the flow. Yet, I track what I do and it feels great to sum up what you’ve done over the month. You look at your planner (in my case it should actually be called a “register”) and say “Hey, I wasn’t fooling around as much as I thought – look how much I actually did!” And that is why my usual study planner month looks like this:

I do take some days off. Sometimes it’s good to just relax and do something different or to take care of something that came up. I mark such days with “OFF”, so I know I skipped studying. It also helps to boost my motivation when I take too many days off. I tell myself „Oi, girl, gotta get your sh*t together! Sit down right now!”. Yes, I do feel guilty sometimes. But it vanishes the moment I sit down again and can mark my progress in the planner.

3. TEXTBOOK TRACKERS

Bullet journal user speaks again here: track your progress with a book/course/tutorial/video series (or whatever else you use)! I do mine this way:

I tend to do it in different ways, depending on the book. I either mark a chapter as a whole or break it down into smaller sections (e.g. reading, writing, listening, whatever the book is structured like), especially if it’s long. After I’m done, I can place a dot. After I finish the whole book, I can tick it off. It feels great to look at it again, seeing and feeling that pride that I finished it. I also track my textbooks on GoodReads – it shows you how many percents you’re in (and how many are left). It feels really good to update my book status both in my bujo and on GoodReads. Plus it can help you track how much time you spent with a book, since GoodReads shows the date when you started reading a book.

4. HUGE GOAL AHEAD

It’s good to have one major goal in front of you – it could be an exam (e.g. mine for 2019 is passing JLPT N3 level), it could be a book you wanna read and finish, traveling goals, people goals (e.g. communicating with your foreign family, friends or SO in their mother tongue) and more! Choose something that feels „big” for you – it doesn’t necessarily have to feel „big” for others and don’t worry if it doesn’t. It’s your choice, your studies, and your progress, not somebody else’s.

5. SMALLER GOALS ON THE WAY

Apart from that big goal, choose several smaller ones while you’re progressing towards your main goal. They can be time-related, like “read 1 book this month” or “learn 100 words this month”. Mine include finishing off a tv series, book, manga or anime series before the month ends, learning a set amount of vocabulary, doing Anki almost daily, doing a section of a textbook, preparing my own flashcards and so on.

Oh yeah, and don’t forget – reward yourself when you achieve one of the goals! I love to treat myself with a bag of unhealthy, fatty, salty chips since I have a thing for them 😉 For the main goal, use a bigger reward – again, “big” is subjective here, just use something that makes you super hyped for the reward and, consequently, boosts your motivation much more than “just” a bag of chips. For example, for taking JLPT N3 this December, I’m gonna reward myself with a limited edition of a Playstation game in Japanese, so I can enjoy it after those exam preparations. I already know it’s gonna be awesome to finally play it after being done with JLPT!

6. SOME THINGS HAVE TO DONE DAILY

Even if you’re taking a day off, make sure to do at least 1 thing every day – in my case, it’s my flashcards. I really recommend using a spaced repetition system (like Anki, Memrise, Quizlet, TinyCards or simple paper flashcards and a box) for your vocabulary. And this should be done every day, unless you want those revision flashcards to pile up, which is counter motivating – if you see too many of them to review, you don’t want to do them. If their number is small, you will go over them more eagerly. Regularity is the key here. This trick also kills your “I haven’t done anything today” guilt, because you’ve done at least this one regular thing, so you’re off your mind’s hook.

7. EVERYTHING COUNTS

I see people studying and being frustrated with themselves, saying “I haven’t done much today” while, in fact, they did. They just don’t count much stuff they do. Some people only consider textbook or class studying as real studying. I don’t. I count EVERYTHING I do in the languages I’m learning. And that includes:

  • browsing the Internet in your target language (TL),
  • watching tv series for pleasure (no subtitles or with subtitles in your TL),
  • reading something (be it a novel, a comic, a magazine, an Internet article, etc.) in your TL for pleasure,
  • playing games,
  • watching youtube,
  • speaking with someone in your TL (either in or outside the classroom, even if you just ask somebody for directions, IT COUNTS),
  • creating flashcards,
  • revising flashcards,
  • writing a diary in your TL, and so on.

Basically, anything you do in your TL, count it! And don’t forget to register it in your planner, so you can later see how much smaller, but still significant, progress you made!

Posted in Motivation, Study methods

WHERE DOES MY MOTIVATION COME FROM?

In my very first post here I mentioned that I do not have to go to school anymore, yet I still study and, if I can be honest, I still find that rewarding and pleasurable. There is little checking of my knowledge, though, since I don’t write tests and I rarely take exams (only the official language level exams, like JLPT or Cambridge ones). If there’s no school, there are no grades, tests and other performance motivators like that. So, how do I find that motivation to actually sit down and study, while being an adult (who has REALLY had enough of official education) with home, family, life and work responsibilities adults usually have?

I don’t.
I really don’t.

This was something I struggled with when it came to my Japanese. When I lived in the city where my university was, I used to go to a language school once a week. It was simple, it put me in a routine, so I went with it and studied for the sake of the course. But as most courses, that came with the usual package – tests, teacher’s questions during the lesson, the urge to impress your course mates with your knowledge. So that worked as a motivator.
But what to do when it just isn’t possible for you to go to a language school? Or to join any other classes or courses? What if you don’t enjoy online courses (that’s my case)? What to do then?
Well, my solution is what most books on motivation say, really (and books on motivation to write novels, too, since I read tons of those as well).

You gotta stick it out.
You just sit down and do it.
There’s no rocket science here.
As there is no “sudden inspiration” in writing (the inspiration when suddenly you feel you have a great idea and you just have to sit down and start writing), if there’s no motivation in you, you create it.
Yes, you basically sit down and start DOING IT.
JUST. LIKE. THAT.
Like this guy says:

This year, on January 1st, for the first time in many, many years, I made a New Year’s resolution: restart my Japanese and do it (almost) every day. And so I did. Something just clicked, I sat down with one of the textbooks I bought over the years and I just started to go over it.

Of course, this is no miracle story, I helped myself. I used the knowledge OF myself that I acquired over the years, the knowledge OF HOW I STUDY AND HOW I KEEP MYSELF MOTIVATED.

This is something you have to do yourself. Observe yourself, test different solutions, take advantage of different factors that motivate you and choose the ones that work best. It took me many, many years to realise that you are the one who controls your studies. What you learn is your choice and it’s a fantastic choice to make. It feels AWESOME when you’re doing what you want to do, rather than studying something which is imposed on you.

This conclusion I came to after so many years of being a model, (almost) straight A student, is something I’m going to share with you below. Here go 7 rules I follow when I study. I’m going to include them here and in the next post if you wanna share them or go back to them without needing to read this introduction again.

1. DECIDE ON THE SPOT

That’s right. I do not plan what I’m going to study when I sit down to do it. I do not make grande plans like “I will do 3 chapters tonight” or “I will focus on book X tonight”. No, I don’t tell myself stuff like that. Instead, I sit down and ask myself: “So, what do I feel like doing tonight?” and I just do it. And it feels great!

Honestly, this was something I found so irritating at school and university. I had a set book to go over. I had set homework to do. I had a set chapter to read. I absolutely hated it! If the chapter was boring, I couldn’t skip it. If a paper or task was dull to write/do, I couldn’t skip it without damaging my grade.

But when I study on my own, of my own motivation – I can. I can skip exercises I don’t like. This is something I also learned to do – if an exercise is a bore, don’t do it. Don’t kill your motivation for the sake of finishing the whole book PERFECTLY. Go to the task you really wanna do. Of course, you have to be moderate with this, don’t skip all the tasks! 😉 I, for instance, tend to skip some writing exercises like WRITE A DIALOGUE, because those bore me to death. And I don’t feel guilty about doing that AT ALL.

Why? Because I noticed that forcing myself to do something I don’t wanna kills my motivation and I don’t want that to happen. Maintaining your motivation helps you sit down every day. Think about this – how many times, while at school, you got sick in your stomach simply THINKING that there’s this mundane homework that’s waiting for you on your desk? And you put off doing it for as long as it was possible? That’s what I’m talking about. It feels much, much better to make your own decisions about your studying process, rather than blindly following every exercise in a textbook or following just one textbook, when you really feel like reading a passage of that novel you bought the other day.

The other thing connected with this point is the amount of work you wanna do. As I wrote before, I do not plan to “do 3 chapters tonight”. Why? Because I’m a working adult with a family. If you share my situation, you know that sometimes plans don’t work out – you’re tired, your family needs you, something simply happens and needs your attention. This is another reason why I don’t plan – I do not feel guilty when something comes up. Yet, I try to do something daily. Even if it’s just flashcards revision, reading a little or watching an episode in my target language.

2. STUDY PLANNER

This was the first thing I did, even before I opened a textbook back in January 2019. It’s not my own solution, I once saw somebody do it on Instagram and I thought “this is it!”. As a bullet journal user, I can totally relate to writing down what you want to study on a particular day. However, I did my planner differently – I write down what I HAD DONE on a day. And it works wonders since it’s connected to no. 1 on this list – I’m not bound by plans. I simply go with the flow. Yet, I track what I do and it feels great to sum up what you’ve done over the month. You look at your planner (in my case it should actually be called a “register”) and say “Hey, I wasn’t fooling around as much as I thought – look how much I actually did!” And that is why my usual study planner month looks like this:

I do take some days off. Sometimes it’s good to just relax and do something different or to take care of something that came up. I mark such days with “OFF”, so I know I skipped studying. It also helps to boost my motivation when I take too many days off. I tell myself „Oi, girl, gotta get your sh*t together! Sit down right now!”. Yes, I do feel guilty sometimes. But it vanishes the moment I sit down again and can mark my progress in the planner.

3. TEXTBOOK TRACKERS

Bullet journal user speaks again here: track your progress with a book/course/tutorial/video series (or whatever else you use)! I do mine this way:

I tend to do it in different ways, depending on the book. I either mark a chapter as a whole or break it down into smaller sections (e.g. reading, writing, listening, whatever the book is structured like), especially if it’s long. After I’m done, I can place a dot. After I finish the whole book, I can tick it off. It feels great to look at it again, seeing and feeling that pride that I finished it. I also track my textbooks on GoodReads – it shows you how many percents you’re in (and how many are left). It feels really good to update my book status both in my bujo and on GoodReads. Plus it can help you track how much time you spent with a book, since GoodReads shows the date when you started reading a book.

4. HUGE GOAL AHEAD

It’s good to have one major goal in front of you – it could be an exam (e.g. mine for 2019 is passing JLPT N3 level), it could be a book you wanna read and finish, traveling goals, people goals (e.g. communicating with your foreign family, friends or SO in their mother tongue) and more! Choose something that feels „big” for you – it doesn’t necessarily have to feel „big” for others and don’t worry if it doesn’t. It’s your choice, your studies, and your progress, not somebody else’s.

5. SMALLER GOALS ON THE WAY

Apart from that big goal, choose several smaller ones while you’re progressing towards your main goal. They can be time-related, like “read 1 book this month” or “learn 100 words this month”. Mine include finishing off a tv series, book, manga or anime series before the month ends, learning a set amount of vocabulary, doing Anki almost daily, doing a section of a textbook, preparing my own flashcards and so on.

Oh yeah, and don’t forget – reward yourself when you achieve one of the goals! I love to treat myself with a bag of unhealthy, fatty, salty chips since I have a thing for them 😉 For the main goal, use a bigger reward – again, “big” is subjective here, just use something that makes you super hyped for the reward and, consequently, boosts your motivation much more than “just” a bag of chips. For example, for taking JLPT N3 this December, I’m gonna reward myself with a limited edition of a Playstation game in Japanese, so I can enjoy it after those exam preparations. I already know it’s gonna be awesome to finally play it after being done with JLPT!

6. SOME THINGS HAVE TO DONE DAILY

Even if you’re taking a day off, make sure to do at least 1 thing every day – in my case, it’s my flashcards. I really recommend using a spaced repetition system (like Anki, Memrise, Quizlet, TinyCards or simple paper flashcards and a box) for your vocabulary. And this should be done every day, unless you want those revision flashcards to pile up, which is counter motivating – if you see too many of them to review, you don’t want to do them. If their number is small, you will go over them more eagerly. Regularity is the key here. This trick also kills your “I haven’t done anything today” guilt, because you’ve done at least this one regular thing, so you’re off your mind’s hook.

7. EVERYTHING COUNTS

I see people studying and being frustrated with themselves, saying “I haven’t done much today” while, in fact, they did. They just don’t count much stuff they do. Some people only consider textbook or class studying as real studying. I don’t. I count EVERYTHING I do in the languages I’m learning. And that includes:

  • browsing the Internet in your target language (TL),
  • watching tv series for pleasure (no subtitles or with subtitles in your TL),
  • reading something (be it a novel, a comic, a magazine, an Internet article, etc.) in your TL for pleasure,
  • playing games,
  • watching youtube,
  • speaking with someone in your TL (either in or outside the classroom, even if you just ask somebody for directions, IT COUNTS),
  • creating flashcards,
  • revising flashcards,
  • writing a diary in your TL, and so on.

Basically, anything you do in your TL, count it! And don’t forget to register it in your planner, so you can later see how much smaller, but still significant, progress you made!