Don't freak out

So you slipped up. How long as it been since you last read or heard Japanese? Have you been watching the non-Japanese TV in gratuitous amounts? Work catching up to you? School grades slipping? Had to take care of life? So what you lost a couple days. Big deal. Shit happens.

Everybody screws up. I did. Between my studying, school, finishing my recent favorite manga series and getting accidentally hooked on Boston Legal, I've totally blown off Japanese for the past six days total for the first time.

What's the solution? Don't try to force yourself into "doing more Japanese". That's not a valid solution. The best way to handle it is to simply let your interests drift. Drift back to Japanese, to be specific. Today was the first day I started getting back into the groove. I still slaked off a lot and watched Boston Legal, studied for my biology class, ate out, etc. But between all that I was listening to some really good 陰陽座 songs I hadn't listened to before. About an hour before now I got the idea to search for some backgrounds for the band (of which I was unsuccessful, by the way, Japan sucks at the internet). When I was searching I ran into the singer's blog, singer's wiki page, the lyrics for songs, etc.

And down the rabbit hole I went. Tomorrow I have a light amount of work and I've run out of Boston Legal for now, I have no doubt I'll be looking up the cool demonic words in their songs tomorrow.

See what I mean? Never force yourself. Let your interest guide you.


特別進学計画 progress report - 9 days

Well, it has been nine days so far since I started my little project.

Sleeping - So I've gotten into the habit of waking up everyday at seven am. I actually found it surprisingly easy. Steve Pavlina's advice was tremendously helpful here. One of the reasons I found it easy to suddenly start it, was because I had already been in the habit of getting up when my alarm went off. Instead of having a traditional noisy alarm, I have one that will literally vibrate under my bed when it goes off. It works so much better because it doesn't make me freak out desperate to turn it off. Waking up without some intruding noise makes it so much easier.

Forum - I've successfully cut out my forum use entirely. I've reclaimed so much time, it's not even funny. If you visit a forum more than once a couple days, I highly suggest you quit for a while and find out how much more time you gain.

Meat - Unfortunately, it turned out that I wasn't able to maintain this one for personal reasons. I'd still like to try it someday, but I can't really now.

Study - This has been interesting. Since I've basically eliminated memory as a problem, I'm really seeing now how much I can turn my study into a memory game.

Chemistry is no problem. The only problem really is remembering the details of what it teaches you. The biggest problem people have with big scary subjects like chemistry is the high volume of new information. People are content to have a term explained once and think they've "learned it". But that's simply not true. A textbook will introduce you to a term and then immediately use it and expect you to know it. The reason people find it easier to learn from instructors and explanations from people is probably because they take it easy on you with the language.

But guess what? SRS takes care of that perfectly. Chemistry is cake.

Math was the only subject which I was a bit worried about. It's kinda hard to make flashcards for math, and it can also be a bit confusing at times. Why do the parenthesis make so much a difference with exponents? Why can you just move around numbers to change them being +/-? Negative x Positive = Negative or Negative / Positive = Negative, why?It's a confusing mess. But I don't care, I don't learn that stuff.

The way I see it, math is like language. Doing math problems, reading how to simplify problems, the point isn't to learn exactly how things work. You simply cannot learn the extremely low level reason explaining why certain things work and then apply it immediately to higher level stuff.

The approach I take is that I simply accept it. The book tells you that you have to put a parenthesis in this situation, so I do it. I imitate. I see problems as exercising my math skills in imitating what the book says to do in a specific situation. I suppose I'll eventually reach a point where I'll have seen enough math to be able to say "You do it this way, not that way". I'm not sure I'll be able to explain exactly why, but I think that's best left for after I've gotten decent at algebra. Knowing why I do something after I can already do it, is so much easier then trying to figure it out beforehand.

Which what sparked the original idea of the 30 minutes a day for two subjects: My rules are,
a)I don't have to SRS anything if I don't want to.
b)Don't have to try and do anything more than the most simplest of task, as long as I'm getting exposure to the subject.

You see what I'm getting at? Decrease perfectionism, remove the causes of procrastination, and increase exposure. The idea is that I need to be doing it everyday and without forcing myself to. And I've found my productivity and time spent to be much higher this way, less headaches and less stress.

I'm finding that the math is holding me back here, unfortunately. It's not that it's not entirely impossible to understand without the math, just that I miss things. They build up, and fast. So I'll work on my algebra a while before I get into calculus and physics.

I guess that's it. I'm busy, but having fun. So much to learn.


How I use Anki

Anki is an awesome program. It basically takes memory out of the equation when learning. The problem is that there's a bit of a learning curve to using it. Anki is unique from other spaced repitition programs because it uses models and distinguishes between a 'fact' and a 'card' for data organization. Many cards can be generated from a single fact. Then there's also the question on how to use it effectively, what you should put it, how you should put data in, etc. Here I'll start off with how I've setup my models and card generation in Anki and move to how I put data in it.

Models and cards
Starting of with my Japanese, I've created a model to put in sentences:

Japanese Sentence Recognition:
%(Context)s [font color set to white in display properties]
%(Japanese notes)s

In my normal everyday Japanese sentence model, it quizzes me from the sentence to the readings. In theory I only need the "Expression" field and "Reading" field. However, I use the context and notes field in case I forget something. Context is there to remind me of the context and situation of where the sentence was, including the surrounding sentences, while Japanese notes are where I put definitions from my dictionary.

When I want to remember things other than Japanese, I use a Knowledge model and created some card models. In the first model, Question Quizzing, I take a sentence using cloze deletion and quiz on the term I want to remember in the Info answers field. In this model, the image will show what is being defined to aid memory.

Question Quizzing:
Answer the question or fill in the blank:
%(Info question)s
%(Info answer)s
%(Anecdotes & Notes)s
Source & Context:
%(Source & Context)s

Here you can see the result of this:

In the opposite model, Definition Quizzing, it shows the word and I have to define it. The image is showed on the opposite side, because that would give it away. Sometimes, like when I'm quizzed on remembering things like what a Methyl group (CH3) is, I'll draw out the picture.

Definition Quizzing:
Define or explain:
%(Info answer)s
%(Info question)s
%(Anecdotes & Notes)s
Source & Context:
%(Source & Context)s


Card creation
This is all good and well, but probably more important than this is how I convert text into cards.

"Protons, neutrons, and a host of other exotic particles are now known to be composed of six different varieties of particles called quarks, which have been given the names of up, down, strange, charm, bottom, and top."

This is a perfect example because it shows the source, an image, a simple definition, and the creation of both cards. You can see how the original sentence was long and weighty, not suitable for card creation. Here's the thought process of how I trimmed it down:

", which have been given the names of up, down, strange, charm, bottom, and top." - Too much information. I don't want to have to remember what a quark is, AND remember a six item list to associate with it. I also won't make a separate card for this, as I don't know what they are. I'd just be memorizing useless data without learning about them.

"and a host of other exotic particles" - 'Etc.' will do much better until I learn about these exotic particles.

" are now known to be" - No shit? Delete.

Each card has a single purpose. Make sure you always know what that purpose is.

Selecting information
Now, getting going to an even lower (or higher?) level, selecting information to make cards out of. In textbooks, often information will be built on what was presented earlier. For example, in my Biology textbook it started with a basic introduction to atoms, protons, electrons, neutrons, covalent bonds, etc. The next chapter it went into more detail and presented hydrocarbons, carbon skeletons, molecules, isomers, etc. At the end it presented a chart showing six functional groups and their structers which I memorized (Hydroxide - -OH, Carboxyl - carbonyl with hydroxide, that sort of thing).

As I gradually learned and understood the above concepts presented, the more important it became to have mastered the previous material. Recently I learned that a fatty acid is a carboxylic acid with a carbon skeleton attached to it. That a tryacylglycerol has three fatty acids esterified to a glycerol molecule.

Unlike my classmates, who had to look up these terms or forfeit understanding, I understood it immediatly. I don't need to tell you how much more effective it is for learning to have a concrete understanding without the trouble of memory.

Here are some tips on how to convert data to cards

-Be selective:
From my Physics book:
"A new era in physics, usually referred to as modern physics, began near the end of the 19th century."

Is this a fact you could make a card out of? Sure. Am I reading a physics book for a history lesson? No.

I used to SRS every little fact that came along. But it was useless. I don't need to know a term's Latin word it came from. I was spending too much time reviewing useless information when I could have been spending time learning new things that are important.

-SRS hard facts, not conclusions:
This rule is a continuation from the last, but not so clear cut. For example:
"The existence of neutrons was verified conclusively in 1932. A neutron has no charge and a mass that is about equal to that of a proton. One of its primary purposes is to act as a “glue” that holds the nucleus together. If neutrons were not present in the nucleus, the repulsive force between the positively charged particles would cause the nucleus to come apart."

The only piece of information in this that was new to me was how neutrons prevent the protons from coming apart in a nucleus. However, since I am already very familiar with atom's protons/neutrons and their nuclear charges, this immediately made sense to me. I debated putting it in, but I really don't think I'll forget this for a long time. It's a result of facts I already have memorized.



March 1st will be my birthday. Incidentally, March 1st 2010 will be the end of my 18 month Japanese run where I'll hopefully be fluent. Not only that, but shortly thereafter I will get my 2 year degree. At the end of this 18 month trial I want to go to Japan, get accepted into a good college, and pursue study in the subjects I'm truly interested in.

Here are the subjects I've determined I'll need to be well versed in by the end of that year:

Organic chemistry

Just by looking at this list, if I want to accomplish this in a year I'm going to have to be extremely organized and disciplined. To facilitate this, I'm going to have make my body and mind work its best. That means I'll be incorporating the following:

I'll become an early riser. I'm going to aim at getting up everyday at seven o'clock every morning, eating a healthy breakfast (along with some Anki reps), and exercising.

For exercising I don't plan on doing anything more than a simple walk, at least at first. When my pool is warm enough to swim in, I'll go swimming every morning instead.

I hope to have a slightly better diet. I consider my diet now to be far better than most Americans, but it could still use some improvement. I'll try a thirty day challenge removing red meat from my diet. Fish and chicken are OK (I've never really eaten fish, but I want to start, see what it's like).

Kill the forum. I'm going to completely stop visiting the kanji.koohii.com forum for thirty days. It's a total and complete waste of time. Plus I can't stand the negativity there.

Scheduling. I'm going to have to make sure I have some way of making sure I do a daily amount of studying. At first I considered treating it the same way as it would in school by studying in blocked amounts of time everyday, but that has never worked before and I don't see any reason for it to work now. Instead I'm going to go for a much more liberal policy. What I'll do is instead organize it something like this:

Chemistry textbook
Math practice
Biology textbook

Where I'll have all the subjects I'm working on listed, and in a given day I'll only have to work on two of them each day. And for each subject I'll only hold myself obligated to 30 (timeboxed) minutes a day. After I've completed my obligatory 30 minutes, I can continue working on the subject as long as I want until I don't feel like it. This allows me to prevent burnout and procrastination. I figure that doing 30 minutes a day is much better then procrastinating and accomplishing only an hour a week.

Keep in mind that this is not going to be kept in my mind. I have a whiteboard that I hung up in my working area with thirty checkboxs for my challenges, and the details of everything I'm working on and to track my progress.

To be honest, I don't think I could do this, college, and Japanese without my favorite program, Anki. This program really is amazing. It basically ensures that I don't forget what I learn. I put everything in there, and I can reduce the time I spend memorizing and worrying about if I learned something enough. One thing I'm going to have to stop is waiting until right before bed to do my reps. Right now I'm in the habit of doing it the last hour before bed. This is bad because if I don't finish in an hour, I stay up later taking longer from drowsiness to finish it. It's also bad because doing challenging mental tasks right before bed is probably inefficient for review, and also doesn't help when I want to sleep.

So I have four thirty day challenges I'm undertaking tomorrow: morning routine, cut out meat/eat fish, kill forum, study everyday. On top of this, I'll be maintaining a Japanese immersion environment, life, college, etc. Fun!

(It's とくべつしんがくけいかく)


Sucky beginner advice 2

Ok, so maybe my last post for beginners wasn't enough. It's not easy to communicate this, because it makes sense to me, even when it doesn't make sense to others.

So first of all let me say, I understand what you're going through. I know what your feeling. Let me tell you something, everybody feels it. I still feel it from time to time, my friends do, Khatzumoto does, everybody does. It's the feeling that you just don't get it. The feeling where you want to pick up that manga, that book, that series, and just read it and enjoy it, but you can't. You're wondering "When will I get past this crappy beginner stage?", "When can I start learning from things I like!?", etc. Let me tell you, you will get there. It will happen, but very slowly.

Like- you ever go to a restaurant and they still have the old fashioned Heinz ketchup glass bottle? You just want some ketchup for your fries, because fries suck without some ketchup. But the damn ketchup won't come out. What do you do? You shake the ketchup until the tomatoe goodness falls to the opening. It takes a lot of shaking, but it eventually gets there. Your arm may be tired, but it was totally worth it. After all, french fries and ketchup rock.

But I'm getting off topic. The point is that Japanese takes a lot of time and a lot of shaking to get anywhere.

So I can understand your feelings completely when you tell me you want to learn some vocab. Do some Kanji Odyssey, some iKnow or textbook. It's perfectly innocent to say that the more you learn from these sources the more you're able to understand from, and in turn enjoy, authentic Japanese sources.

But I have to ask, why not just learn from authentic sources anyway? It seems if you're spending all this time learning how people say “Please rewrite this document.” or some such thing, why not just switch over to an authentic source and study from that?

I can think of several reasons, but the most important one is that people hold themselves to a much higher standard when approaching authentic sources. It suddenly becomes something that if you don't understand things, it's at too high a level, and it's not fun because you can't understand all of the story. But let me ask you something, how can you tell me that it's not fun to not understand a lot of the story when you feel nice and safe to be understanding sentences that essentially tell you nothing? Why would you feel content to learn from sentences like “兄は音楽を聞きながら寝るのが一番好きです。” when you could give a flying about some guy's brother?

When you read, you cannot hold yourself to a high standard. In fact, you cannot hold yourself to any standard at all. You need to open that book, that manga, and not see a list of words for each sentence you need to look up. You need to look at that book and find the little bits you do understand, the little bits you genuinely want to look up. You may not understand anything at first, but that's ok. Just skip anything that's too hard. Got it? 'Cause this is important. Skip everything that's not easy, and look up stuff you really want to look up. Totally lost on a sentence? Skip it. But does that sentence have a kanji you want to know the reading for (like 闇 or something badass like that)? Look it up and get a sentence.

Here's a little trick I like to do. I like to think as my Japanese ability 'upgrading'. Everyday my Japanese ability will be just a little bit better. What I like to do is everyday think “I wonder how much more Japanese I'll be able to understand with my new abilities today?”. And it does happen. Words I learned yesterday show up the very next morning in a completely different place. Then I'll think “Good thing I found that word yesterday.” with a smile on my face.