It's been a long time, but I felt like updating again. I won't promise to update it everyday, but maybe you'll see more in the future.
When I moved to Japan, I expected my Japanese to improve fairly rapidly. You would, right? Living in a country where Japanese is the native language. Unfortunately it hasn't turned out to be the easy. The problems are varied and I won't go into that too much. I decided that this year would be different though.
I started taking Japanese classes again. One is through a local school and it's so-so. I'm working toward the Japanese language proficiency test, level 2-kyu. 4 is the easiest and 1 is the most difficult, although next year there is going to be five levels. Right now, level 2 is the first level that means anything. Levels 4 and 3 are too easy to mean anything other then you know survival Japanese.
I found a new teacher that I think I'm really going to like. She teaches mainly foreign students who are coming over here to study in a college. There is a huge difference between someone who just decides to a teach and language and someone who's been doing it for years, or studied to be a foreign language teacher. It's great to have someone that can explain concepts and the differences between fine points of grammar. To begin with I'm going to be concentrating strongly on grammar. For level 2, I think it's one of my biggest weak points. Second, it would allow me to sound more adult when conversing. If I want to work at a Japanese company I need improve a lot here. I'll talk a bit more about how I'm going to change how I study grammar below.
One thing that changed in my study habits over the years was that I moved more toward text books as time went on. It should of been the opposite. Taking real material and using it is more frustrating and time consuming, but I think you end up learning a lot more from it. Work eats up a lot of my time, but I'm trying out some different things to see how I can incorporate it into most of my day. Listening is going to be a big part of it, but reading too.
Reading has steadily gotten more difficult. When you start out, short stories or conversations, up to a couple pages are just fine. After that, the material gets longer with a lot more words and grammar you aren't familiar with so gets frustrating quickly and hard to stick with it. Especially if don't get to review for a couple days.
I used to make flashcards to review with. Somewhere in the boxes stored at my parents house I have thousands of these cards. The worked fine to begin with, but as you advance you run into problems with them too. When you get up to 1000s of cards it becomes difficult to review. It's too many cards to go through on a normal basis, but you already know most of them. Looking through them often is a waste of time. I was using a filing system for a while, where cards would get moved into different folders as I remembered them, and they'd move back to the beginning if I forgot them. Works well, but lots of maintenance. Fortunately now, there are a lot of software flashcard packages that can handle this difficulty for you. The one I'm going to be using is Anki. It's multi-platform. The biggest downside is that it's iPhone solution leaves a lot to be desired, but I'm looking at another option. It will automatically handle how often a card appears and it's customizable. Right now I'm using a couple decks I downloaded to go over old vocabulary and now getting into new vocabularly as well as kanji.
Some of the nice features is that the fields are the card are completely customizable. For basic Japanese cards, you have the Japanese field, prouncation and definition. Using anki you can actually create multiple cards from one entry. Japanese text to English and English to Japanese for example. Yes, you can do the same thing with flash cards, but if you add more fields you can get more fancy. For chinese you could create multiple cards for mandarin and catonese from the same entry for example. This also allows me to add more inforation that I can choose to display.
In particular I'm going to use this to attack the problem of reading. When I find good sentances with either words or grammar I'd like to learn I'm entering them into Anki. I'll have a field for the Japanese, pronouncation, meaning/translation and a notes section. Possibly two, one for English and one for Japanese. This will allow me to keep reviewing sentances, words and grammar in context without pulling out old books going through a lot of material I'm not interested in. I'm mainly starting with example sentances for the grammar I'm studying. Already I'm finding it's a great way to learn the vocabularly along with the grammar and it sticks better since I'm seeing in context. One issue with just vocabulary words is that you'll often use the word in the wrong context and this seems to be a huge improvement. Long sentances seem to be a problem though and I need to learn to cut them down to a manageble size. It will also making writing them easier.
I've known about this software for a while and played with it a little, but I wish I started using it earlier. I like paper, but this carries quite a few advantages. Already I have words that won't be appearing again for 3 months because I always get them right. For people have been using with decks of over 10,000 cards it still manages to present a easy number of cards for review everyday and it's the material you need to study.
The only issue is a good mobile solution for review and entry. The iPhone solution isn't bad, but I may look into buying a netbook to have an easier time reviewing, editing and adding cards. It would be going back to Windows or Linux, but I guess I'll survive. :D
I'm still just getting used to this method, but for the first time in a long time I'll pretty confident I can get over this wall that's been stopping me for the past couple years. The most time consuming part is entering sentances, but once they are in reviewing is painless.