Study Tips Part I by Kinch

Study Tips Part I by Kinch
Submitted by kinch

Have you been studying for a few months and are disappointed with a lack of progress? Or perhaps you are just beginning your studies and wish to avoid the common pitfalls that plague others? In this article I will present to you some ideas, suggestions, and theories, on how to maximise your study time and get the best from your resources. Naturally what I say will have different benefits for different people. Each person should be able to find their ideal study pattern themselves, but hopefully these ideas will give you some help if you’re starting to slow down.

In my opinion, the most important thing you can possess when it comes to studying is discipline. Self-discipline is the best, but sometimes it’s necessary to call on others to help. Studying every day, even if only for an hour, is very important. Here’s a simple fact. Studying gets boring. Everyone can attest to this. It’s the will of those who can study even when it’s boring, and to study seriously, that set them apart. Here are some ways of using discipline to benefit your studies.

Make a reward system for yourself. For reasons that don’t really need explaining, people like to be rewarded. They like to indulge in treats. How to use this in studying? Simple. Deny yourself that fancy dessert if you can’t get more than 80% right on a flashcard test. Only 10 words need be used, and if you get 8 or more correct, treat yourself. Enjoy watching anime or reading manga? Hold off watching that latest episode until you’ve studied 20 new words. Each person has their own wants and needs. Apply these principles to your daily life. For those of you who lack self-discipline (I’m one of them) use friends and family to help. Make a deal with your parents that if you don’t get 80% right on an after-dinner quiz that you do the dishes. Make a deal with your room-mates that if you don’t get 80% right you have to put the garbage out. I once heard of 2 room-mates, both studying languages, who would give each other 10 words to memorise at breakfast (they, of course, went out of their way to choose difficult/rare words). After dinner, they quizzed each other, and the loser had to do the dishes and clean the bathroom and do other unpleasant chores. Try it.

Another important point. Practice. If possible, this should be done on a daily basis. This may sound like an obvious statement, but you’d be surprised how little practice gets done. Every day, you should be learning new vocabulary, and new grammar structures. Obviously you start off simple, and work up to the harder elements, but even so, you still need to practice. Practice without a dictionary if possible. Write letters to yourself, your friends, your family. When reading the time, say it out loud in Japanese. I’ll touch on this subject a bit later on, so just keep it in mind for the moment. [Note: This may be in the second article of this series]

Mnemonics. They work. It’s that simple. There are numerous books and articles on what mnemonics are and how to use them. For an excellent example of mnemonics I recommend Project LRNJ. You can find it at http://www.lrnj.com . While the program itself is still in development, and the things it teaches aren’t really that helpful (yet), you will start to recognise how powerful proper mnemonics can be. You can apply them to kanji (as in LRNJ), vocabulary, even grammar. The hard part is coming up with them on your own. Here’s a couple of examples utilising mnemonics that you may not be aware of.

I enjoy anime, as do most of you I imagine. Do you know the japanese word for dog? It’s inu. If you ever forget it, just think of Inuyasha. Inu = dog; Yasha = demon. If you ever forget what ‘dog’ is, you just have to think of your favourite dog demon, Inuyasha, and you have your answer. Another example: The japanese word for ‘ear’ is ‘mimi’. How do I remember that? I remember a theme song for a series called Tsukuyomi Moon Phase, in which the opening theme is just “neko mimi” being repeated. Neko of course means cat, mimi means ear, and the main character always wears a cat-ear headband. You can use these sorts of anime/manga references as much as you want, and they’ll almost always work for you. Remember the word for ‘wanderer’ ? I do. “Rurouni Kenshin” is a favourite series of mine, about a wanderer, named Kenshin. Another: what’s the japanese word for strawberry? Easy – I just remember the series “Ichigo 100%”, which often mentions strawberries (hehe ;). There you have it. Use songs, titles, characters, names, plots, anything you can to create a hook between words you’re learning and things you’re already familiar with.

Some important study tips

The human brain is a remarkable thing. I could write another seperate article on it, but I’ll keep it brief for here. Numerous studies have been done on studying, learning, brain physiology, and everything related to memory. The common findings appear to be these:

1: Lots of smaller study sessions are better than 1 big study session. Instead of studying for 2 hours every night, study for 30 minutes in the morning, 30 minutes during lunch, 30 minutes in mid-afternoon, and 30 minutes at night. Of course this is dependant on time management and your personal circumstances, but try to do it this way if possible.

2: Between each study session, do something that’s totally unrelated to studying japanese. The brain seems to do “background processing” on what you just studied. Go play a game, watch a tv show, read a book. The brain will silently think about what you just studied, and will work it’s way through it. Don’t assume that your studying of those elements is finished though. Spend the first 5 minutes of any lesson reviewing everything from the previous lesson. Try to recall words without looking at anything that would provide hints.

3: 2 very important study times are just after you wake up, and just before going to bed. No one quite knows why (although I suspect it has to do with the ‘background processing’ I mentioned above) but it seems when you sleep, your brain is processing things that it learnt during the day. Studying (or reviewing) just before bedtime seems to boost the priority of those things and makes your brain work on them while you sleep. Similarly, the breakfast study seems to work the same way. During the day, while at work, school, or whatever, your brain seems to focus on what you learned that morning.

4: Don’t listen to ‘normal’ japanese audio for studying, at least not if you’re still in the beginner/mediocre stage. As I said in my other article, it’s fast. It’s so fast that you can’t hear the words unless you know what to listen for. I’m sure most of you are aware of the study about english words. It showed that the middle letters of any word can be jumbled and we can still read it just fine. Here’s an example:

I wdeonr if you can usarnendtd tsehe wdros? It wlil tkae a ltlite bit of pcticare but ocne you get uesd to it, it boeecms mcuh eieasr!

The way the human brain works, it seems to guess what word is coming next. For example:

You are currently _______ my article on studying.

You could probably guess that the missing word is ‘reading’. This is a skill that slowly develops when we gain more and more confidence in a language. Foreigners who speak english as a second language may have difficulties with the above sentences. When studying japanese, the same principles apply. For example, “sumimasen” is often spoken so fast it sounds like “sum-sen”. If you’re confident in the language, your brain will predict that word, and when you hear “sum-sen” you understand it to be an abbreviation of “sumimasen”. That’s an easy example. How do you know if that ‘ni’ is part of the preceding word or a particle? Only by understanding the sentence, and guessing which words make sense in that context. Keep watching your favourite anime, and listening to your favourite music for enjoyment. When you hear a word or phrase you know, you’ll light up with pleasure that you recognised it. But don’t expect to use such things as study aids (at least, not yet). The best they can offer you (at least, until you’re more skilled in the language) is to reaffirm the words you already know.


There were quite a few more things I wanted to mention, but it seems they’ll have to wait until I write part #2 which hopefully will be done soon. Studying is hard. Studying japanese is harder. In my other article, I mentioned that it will take many months, probably years before you start to really know your stuff. This is the prime reason I said discipline was important. It’s easy to be full of enthusiasm for the first few weeks. After that, it starts to fade. You don’t care if you skip a day. You would rather do other work than study. Before long, you’ve stalled. This is a double-edged sword. When you don’t study, not only do you not learn anything new, but you actually start to forget old things. Maybe old things you only heard a few times (I’m sure most of you will never forget what “kon’nichi wa” means) but once that starts to happen, you’re on a slippery slope back to square one. In my next article, I will mention more tools and strategies that might be helpful.

o-tanoshimi ni!

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