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 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 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 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 Choices and sacrifices, Languages

WHAT LANGUAGES DO I STUDY?

If you’re following my Instagram account, you already know that I’m an upper-intermediate learner of Japanese. Currently, I’m studying towards my December goal, which is JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) on the N3 level. After taking it (and, hopefully, passing it) I plan to continue my studies on the N2 level and I will probably take the N2 exam in 2-3 years. Since I’m already a university graduate, I grew to like taking my time with studying because nothing is pressuring me anymore. I don’t need my Japanese for work, university grades or anything. I just looooove the Japanese language and plan to use it when I finally go to Japan for some sightseeing (and *coughs* tons of shopping *coughs*). I also enjoy reading and watching Japanese productions in my spare time.

Since I don’t study formally anymore, I can really make my own choices about my studies, rather than complying with those imposed by a teacher, a lecturer or a boss. If I want to spend more time on a textbook chapter I’m doing, I can. If I want to write pretty notes or flashcards, I can. If I want to stop using my textbook for a while and enjoy a game in Japanese as a part of my studies instead, I can. As a result, I can really take my time with the language and make progress on MY terms and with a pace that brings me both pleasure and satisfaction.

After so many years of studying compulsory and uninteresting subjects at both school and university, and after trying (and dumping) several foreign languages, I began to choose and study languages which I’m interested in and enjoy studying. If I don’t, I simply dump them with no regrets at all (maybe with just a tiny bit of guilt because of how much money I’d spent on materials on that language before I made my final decision whether it’s even worth pursuing or not – it’s a bad habit of mine).

Another language, which I had taken up recently, is Korean. At the moment I’m learning Hangul (the Korean alphabet) and then I’m going to start a coursebook for absolute beginners. My motivation here is as simple as it was when I first decided to learn Japanese – I enjoy Korean dramas and manhwas (the Korean equivalent of Japanese mangas) and I want to understand and enjoy them in the original. I also like the sound of Korean, it creates this fluffy, butterfly-like, feeling in my stomach every time I hear it. The very same thing happens to me with Japanese (nothing beats the strength of this feeling WHEN dealing with the Japanese language, though, it’s just the best, I’m all kicks and giggles EVERY TIME), which makes both of these languages very enjoyable to study and it also works great as a motivator.

There’s one more language which I TRY to study (“try” is a very good word here, since I’m so irregular with studying it) and that is German. I had studied German during my compulsory education, that is throughout primary and high school, so I reached this pre-intermediate level with it, further continued it at university when I had to choose a foreign language as one of the classes. Language classes are mandatory during university studies in Poland, but you get to choose what language you want to learn as a part of your curriculum. I always chose German, since I had already known some of it and I couldn’t choose English since my major was in English.

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with German. There were times when I really enjoyed it (especially if I had good teachers or pleasantly looking textbooks – I’m your typical visualiser) and times when I really hated it (especially due to my everlasting lack of ability to comprehend and remember nouns’ gender and German cases, no matter what I did to make them stick). German is the only language I study because I must – I need it for my work purposes. This is also the reason WHY me studying it happens so rarely (even though I really like the textbooks I chose for myself). However, since I do not genuinely enjoy the sound and structure of German, I learned to be very picky with it – I only study and memorise what I absolutely need. I work in tourism, so I pick up and revise vocabulary and structures relevant to my work, like accommodation, rooms and furniture, places in town, tourist attractions, food and restaurants, giving directions and so on. I skip politics, ecology, animals or even topics as simple as family members or school subjects. Because I don’t use that knowledge at work, anyway! So why should I bother learning it?

As for choosing what aspects of a language to learn and what to omit, I plan on writing a separate post on this matter, as I often see people needlessly studying what they DON’T NEED AND DON’T ACTUALLY CARE ABOUT. This is especially true if you’re not bound with a course’s syllabus or any exams – then you really can choose what to study*. Why you should do so – please check out my next post.

* Yet, I do believe it can also be done even when you’re studying a language at school, university or during a course – it just takes a little more work and compromise on your part. How to do so – I’ll also include my past experiments in the next post.

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!