Three years of Japanese self-studies

Japanese Studies Calendar 2013

(Click to view the full-size version.)

It’s the 17th August 2013 and my third year as a self-learner of Japanese has come to an end. (Ok, it’s tomorrow, but I couldn’t wait.)

The highlight was of course the Japan trip over New Year’s – the only trip I made during this scholar year, as opposed to a whole four of them during my second year. My friend and tandem partner Kohei was visiting Japan at the same time, so we met up in Kyoto and I stayed with his family – a great experience. His girlfriend was also in Japan, so we went out in Osaka together. I met all my other friends too of course, and the manga artists I publish, plus I visited the legendary fair for self-published manga, Comic Market, or Comiket, for the whole three days it ran at Tokyo Big Sight, the big fair venue.

The tandem sessions with my Japanese friends in Berlin were great too. I had a total of 71 sessions during this year, up from 63. But as you can see in the graph, most of them were in September 2012. I probably talked more Japanese in Berlin in September than what I do when I go to Japan! The main reason for that surge in tandem sessions was that there is a language school just around the corner from my flat, and several of my Japanese friends were attending German and English courses there. So when they had finished class, they would ring my bell to see if I was at home, and if I was, we would have coffee and do tandem. Sometimes I had two or three visitors per day – my flat felt like a café or an open house for Japanese speakers. It was a great time. But things change. They finished their courses, moved on to internships or other schools, or in some cases, other tandem partners. (Which I fully support; I can do English tandem but I’m not a good German tandem partner.) We still do tandem, among other things, but not as often as before. It’s hard to keep up when you don’t have the convenience of improvising after school.

I failed JLPT N3 in December 2012. I sort of gave up right before the test, because when doing old sample tests I realised that this wasn’t my level yet. I lagged behind in reading, and to be honest, I still can’t read very fast. The last months have been a lot about changing that. Or at least beginning to change that, because I still don’t really read any texts, but I’ve studied a lot of kanji and now know the meanings and readings of all 367 kanji that are supposed to be N3 level. This is thanks to Memrise, which I discovered in May 2013, and which pretty much has replaced Iknow as my resource for vocabulary training.

I’ve also done some hardcore Iknow review, writing down every single word from word 500 to word 3,000 (I skipped the first 500 very simple words) in a “Vokabelheft” – that’s 2,500 words and the “heft” is now full. Looking at my Iknow statistics, I have currently started 3,598 items and mastered 3,146 of them. A year ago, that was 2,405/2,210. So I’ve learned (mastered) 936 new words during this year. Let’s say a thousand since I’m about to finish a course right now.

The big gap between started and mastered items is because I recently decided to do Iknow quite hardcore. I started many courses, not bothering to wait for one to finish first. So now my Iknow dashboard looks like this:


There are 6,000 words in total in the “Japanese Core” series (it ends with Core 6000: Step 1 – 10).

I have done some reading too, in Reading Japanese with a Smile. The book contains nine real stories from a Japanese weekly magazine. I’ve finished seven of them. The words and grammar of each story are thoroughly explained by the author. I think this is just my level. It’s very exciting to read real texts instead of the simplified ones you find in text books.

I tried another book that seemed to be similar: Breaking into Japanese Literature. But even the simplest story in that one was too hard for me to read. My friend Daisuke said that it contained lots and lots of words that are never used in Japanese daily speech, think the lush language of Byron – the stories are from the same era. So I’ll save that book for later.

Also ordered Common Japanese Collocations, but that one was more like a dictionary so I haven’t used it at all so far. Seems useful though. (To be honest, these last two books were bonus items that I added to my Amazon cart to be eligible for free shipping – above 20 euros that is – when ordering other books.)

The most exciting thing about my studies, as I’ve mentioned before, is the consistency of them. Three years of Japanese studies. That’s like three years of a relationship. You have to continuously put effort into it, or it will die. You build on it and enjoy seeing it develop into new realms. Or something.

I have some exciting plans for the autumn that you’ll see more about later.

Some of the previous anniversary posts:

And some of the other posts about my Japanese learning over the last year:

2 thoughts on “Three years of Japanese self-studies

  1. Hi Karl,
    I want to start with learning japanese and I really like your blog and this timetable. I’m thinking about following your path and doing it the same way (books, iknow, etc). Looking back often one has regrets and know things better. Do you have any suggestions for changing the way of learning or any recommendation for another book?

    Thank you for your respond.

  2. Hi Antonio,

    hmm. If I would change something it would probably be kanji learning. Learning more kanji, earlier in the process and more consistently would have improved my overall Japanese a lot. Particularly reading and writing skills of course. But kanji knowledge also affects how easy it is to remember new words, since you will recognise them by the kanji they contain.

    I’m in two minds about Japanese From Zero and have never gone back to them to check things, which I do all the time with Genki and Elementary Japanese. However, those two books are not completely from zero, so it was actually JFZ who was my very first guide and it did a good job as such.

    Some kind of classroom setting early on probably wouldn’t hurt either.

    Basically I would just say: Start! You can always change the method, but the one most important thing is consistency. Good luck!

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