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December 29, 2005

New Year's Resolutions for Learning Japanese

So, how did your 2005 New Year's resolutions turn out? Yep, mine were mostly flops too. I didn't learn that new programming language (or even decide what it would be). I didn't lose X pounds either. I think I made some resolutions for learning Japanese, but they've probably been long-since erased with the rest of my BT email.

Since the new year is less than a week away, it's time to start thinking about new ones. I think that my main foci for the year are going to be learning kanji and getting ready for the JLPT.

First, the boring stuff. I'm almost finished reviewing lesson 6 of "Japanese for Everyone." That's as far as I got with Japanese lessons earlier this year, so I'm going to try to finish it off this week and begin lesson 7 next week/year. I have 21 lessons left. In theory I could finish the book in a year if I try to master a lesson every 2 weeks.

I'm not sure how realistic that is, though, because the other areas are going to take time. I definitely want to take the JLPT next December, level 3 if possible. I was hoping to do it this year, but school prevented it. Next year for sure.

I really, really want to make serious progress on kanji, though. The standard advice for language learning is to start reading as soon as possible for practice in translation, vocabulary and grammar. That's fine for languages with reasonably-sized alphabets or syllabaries. However, the kanji make that very difficult to do in Japanese. If you know the Roman alphabet, you can learn the Greek, Cyrillic or even Hebrew alphabets in a day or two. For that matter, you can learn the Japanese hiragana and katakana in a day or two. However, if you want to read a newspaper or magazine, you need to know not just the syllabaries but several thousand kanji as well, and you can't learn those in a day or two.

For the past 1.5 years I've been playing around with the Heisig method and even made it through 600 (or so) characters of the first book. That's not enough progress to be satisfying: I still can't read a newspaper or magazine (although I do plan to get a copy of Shonen Jump, where most kanji have furigana--that could be a big help). It'd be really nice to do the first 2000 kanji in the next year. The question is how to get there. It's a big mountain to climb no matter which path you choose.

Choice 1 is to stick with the Heisig method. I like the Heisig method. In order to do 2000 kanji (the first 2 books), I'd have to do each book in 6 months. That would mean learning to recognize and write about 12 characters per weekday (leaving weekends for review) from January through June, then learning the readings of those characters (12 per day again) from July through December. That would be about an hour per day. I don't think it's unrealistic, considering that I have 2 hours of commuting every day. If I can get into a vanpool, I could do 12 per day pretty easily.

Choice 2 is to ditch Heisig and go the traditional route of rote memorization. It has worked in the past for other languages, and it would give some more immediate results than Heisig (where you learn meanings and readings entirely separately). Thanks to the Barnes & Noble used book section and someone who decided to sell all of his Japanese learning books, I have copies of "Essential Kanji" and "Reading and Writing Japanese".

I do still believe in the Heisig method, although my own dedication to the method hasn't been very steady. I like the idea of learning all the meanings first, grouped in a logical order (by common primitive elements rather than simply by frequency of occurrence), and I like the idea of learning all the readings in groups as Heisig presents them in Book 2. However, "Essential Kanji" seems like it takes a middle road: according to the introduction it still presents characters and reading together in a huge long list, but does group them by common readings and seems to work along the lines of what Heisig calls "signal primitives".

I may give rote memorization a trial of a few days to see how it works out, then commit to one of the methods for the next year. When I was in college (and high school Spanish) my typical M.O. was simply to read through a straight vocabulary list a few times and I'd have them learned. Maybe I still have the brainpower to make it work.

As for language learning in general, I don't really have any resoutions, just things I'd like to accomplish. I'd like to warm up my Greek again and complete another Pimsleur course, maybe German or Mandarin. Probably Mandarin. I haven't really thought about it much: there's too much yet to do with Japanese, and too little time to do it all. I'd like to finish up the article I'm writing about the things I've learned in a year (* 1.5) of learning Japanese, and am thinking about starting up (yet another) site with learning advice, reviews, etc.

So what are your resolutions for learning languages, especially Japanese? Post them here (or a link to them elsewhere), and then you'll have something to check as the year progresses.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at December 29, 2005 10:18 AM


I've been doing the first Heisig book as well, but not learning as many as 12 per day, instead working on quality of remembering and review. I am planning to take the 4 kyuu next December. Part of my study time includes preparing for the four parts of the test, learning 3 to 10 kanji every three days or so, and seriously increasing my vocabulary. I found a Japanese friend on the Mixxer to speak with. That helps with my speaking ability.

Just today I decided to learn one pattern for a certain type of verb, thru all its tenses and endings, then follow that pattern for more verbs. Also use the same technique for adverbs and adjectives.

I probably need to make short and long term goals. Something to use as a pattern of progress and unconscious encouragement. Might even start a blog for someone else to use as a idea or resource starter for someone else.

Posted by: LoneWolf at December 30, 2005 04:01 PM

I see I'm late to the party here, but my Japanese resolution is to pass JLPT level 2 this year. I would have tried 3 last year had I not missed the application deadline.

I've got all 1000 level-2 kanji and 6000 words divided up by week so I can learn 'em all by the end of summer. :)

I also need to keep doing German from time to time, and read some more in French. So many languages, so little time. :)

Posted by: Paul D at February 7, 2006 12:41 PM

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