Sunday, January 13, 2013

Goals, Goals, Goals!

If you're just beginning to learn Japanese, having fluency in your mind at the start is a dangerous game to play unless:

1) You are moving / have moved to Japan and are immersed in the culture and the language. 

2) You are one of those very rare but lucky people who have a real gift for learning languages and can make huge gains in a very short space of time (i.e. not me)

If you find yourself outside of the two groups mentioned above, it's much better to trust the tortoise - "Slow and steady wins the race!"

It's much better to have clear short-term goals in place, rather than daunting long-term aims that will feel very distant and will discourage you more than they encourage you. Don't get me wrong, it's good to have long-term goals in the back of your mind but these should be broken down into manageable, bite-size tasks.

Instead of learning [insert outrageous number] of kanji in 6 months, break it down into monthly targets or even weekly targets if you are well organised.

Be realistic and flexible!

Let's say you decide to learn 600 kanji in one month. 

At face value, I would look at this and say that there is a good chance you will FAIL!

 I've known people to do this and then, after getting annoyed by missing their targets, lose interest in the language and give up completely. 
Over the top much?

Stop and think!

If we break down this 600 kanji target, assuming that a month has 28 days:

A) Calculation - You would need to be learning on average 21 kanji every day or 84 kanji a week (no rest on the weekends, mate!)

Comment - I'm not a mathematician, but THAT'S A LOT OF KANJI FOR ONE DAY! Do you really trust yourself to learn that many kanji in a day and not skip a single day due to other arrangements?

B) Calculation - If it takes you roughly 15 minutes to really nail a kanji (that includes learning its stroke order, its composition, its on and kun readings as well as a couple of example compounds), then you would need to spend over 5 hours per day on kanji learning alone.

Comment - Now.. if you study two hours in the morning, two hours at lunch and an hour at night, you could probably just about manage this. But, that's assuming it takes you no more than 15 minutes to properly learn a kanji and that you haven't forgotten anything about the kanji you learned the day before (or the day before that). 

The truth is, you will come across kanji that look similar to others, and you'll end up spending a bit more time on them. Likewise, you are bound to forget something from the previous day of study, and you'll probably need to jog your memory. 

By all means, prepare a study plan to keep yourself focused and motivated, but remember to give yourself time to relax and do other things! 

You could leave out two days from your study plan so that you can go out without feeling guilty. The plus side to this is that if you don't go out on that day, you have some extra time to go over earlier work or give yourself a head-start on new material!

Don't neglect the other core skills!

I used the example of kanji earlier because I know a lot of people who focus squarely on being able to read and write every kanji by heart. It's great if you are exhibiting such dedication and enthusiasm, but you have to ask yourself one question:

"Do I give myself enough time to cover other areas like speaking, listening, reading, vocabulary and grammar?"

Getting right down to the .... CORE... of the issue

If you are one of those people who treats their kanji textbook like the holy bible, the chances are that you aren't covering the other bases sufficiently. 

Stop and think!

What's the point of knowing 1000 kanji if you don't know enough compounds or verbs to actually use them?

What's the point of knowing 1000 kanji if you have to get people to write everything down for you because you didn't spend enough time on your listening skills?

What's the.... you know what I'm getting at, right?

Hm... that sounds a lot like... 

Studying for and sitting a test like the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) is a decent way to stop yourself from falling into this trap because it tests you on everything apart from speaking. 

In order to pass each testing level, you need a good grasp of the language in terms of kanji, compounds, grammar, comprehension and listening skills. In addition, you have to score a minimum on each of the sections to ensure that you pass. 


If you think you can perform badly on the other sections, knowing that your amazing character knowledge has netted you 100% in the kanji section, THINK AGAIN SUCKA!

So... Just to Recap!

After a little consideration, it's easy to see that outlandish goals create more problems than they solve. You are much better off with manageable, bite-size, short-term goals. Don't work your ass off trying to study Japanese because it won't become fun and when it stops being fun - it becomes a chore!

Build upon your skills slowly but surely!

Equally important is the way in which you divide up your study time. It's no good knowing 1000 kanji if you can't even ask somebody for the time. Rather than trying to steam ahead in one particular area, slow things down and keep every core skill in mind. I guarantee that you will enjoy learning and using Japanese much more after developing a well-rounded set of skills.

So, what does Cristiano Ronaldo have in common with learners of Japanese?

if only my Japanese were as good as Cristiano Ronaldo's dribbling skills!


See you again soon!

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