Learn Japanese the Hard Way

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Why you should watch every TV show, anime or japanese movie at least twice: the priming effect

I have noticed again and again that when I rewatch the same episode of the same tv show or drama the following day, I tend to understand much more the second time. Even if I was not listening actively during the first listening.


The difference is striking and it might be connected to the “priming effect”. To quote wikipedia :

Priming is an implicit memory effect in which exposure to one stimulus influences a response to another stimulus. […] Their original work showed that people were faster in deciding that a string of letters is a word when the word followed an associatively or semantically related word. For example, NURSE is recognized more quickly following DOCTOR than following BREAD. 

The second time you listen to it, your brain remember faster the words has it as been “primed” by the first listening.

Anyway, my suggestion: try watch the same video again and again, once a day for a couple of days.

You will enjoy the video more because you’ll be able to focus on the content itself during the second and third listening.

It is an efficient way to create “comprehensible input”, which is one of the basis to learn any language. Refer to Stephen Krashen’s Theory of Second Language Acquisition for more on that.

Filed under japanese language learning

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Update on “How to spend less time on Anki and more time reading”

3 weeks ago, I wrote How to spend less time on Anki and more time reading. I felt that I spend too much time on anki and not enough time enjoying the language.

Here is what I tried to lower my time in Anki:

  • lower my leech limit in order to get rid of the card that don’t seem easy to memorize. I will deal with them later.
  • lower my daily new cards count to 10
  • review the leeches later

Here is the update:

This is a success : 

  • I went from 18 hours a week to 13 hours a week of Anki time
  • I feel less frustrated during my review, because I see much less hard to remember cards due to the lowering of the leech threshold.


When learning a language, you have to focus on continuing for a long time. In order to get that, limiting frustration is important. To quote for this article: 

The optimal route to fluency in a language is found by adjusting the balance between “studying” and “playing” with a language.

Don’t forget the “playing” part by watching TV shows, reading articles and books, listening to podcasts, watch movies, etc. in your target language.

In short: make sure to make your language learning fun ;-)

Filed under japanese

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This is the JLPT section of the Eslite bookstore in Taipei.
Interestingly, there is none of the JLPT books that I bought or that I usually see in my bookstores in Paris or online. All this books are for chinese speaking people.

This is the JLPT section of the Eslite bookstore in Taipei.

Interestingly, there is none of the JLPT books that I bought or that I usually see in my bookstores in Paris or online. All this books are for chinese speaking people.

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How to spend less time on Anki and more time reading

Since I have decided to focus this year learning on getting the JLPT N2 in June 2015, I have been ramping up my daily Anki cards.

The problem is that I feel that I am spending way to much time trying to go through my anki decks and not enough time on real materials like books, articles or drama. Nearly 2h of Anki a day.

After googling around, I found a great thread on Koohii Forum

once I noticed that I had a few leeches that had 15 fails and I was nowhere close to remembering it for good.  I realized that after 7 or 8 fails, a card was likely to fail a bunch more times.  Why not send that time learning something that sticks better.  I can go back and study the leeches later.  On top of it, it is a lot more fun to study a bunch of easy cards instead of a card that I still can’t make stick.  It’ll probably stick better after learning a bunch of other words.
- yogert909, from “Cutting Back on SRS: Leech Removal vs Daily Rep Cap


So I will:

  • lower my leech limit in order to get ride of the card that don’t seem easy to memorize. I will deal with them later.
  • lower my daily new cards count to 10
  • review the leeches later

Here is my new setup:

imageI will try that for a couple of weeks and report.

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[jlpt N2] Building a minimum vocabulary list

I am gathering here a few elements about the minimum vocabulary required to pass the N2.

A few list from the web:

For the books, I am looking at:

For Anki, I am already working on: Core 2k/6k/10K Further Optimized 

Now I need to, somehow, tie all that together. I am thinking of aggregating all the lists from the web and match them against the Anki Core 2k/6k/10K Further Optimized list to see how much it covers.

I’ll keep you posted!


OK, so I toyed with the Core 2k/6k/10K Further Optimized deck that seems to contain some JLPT old level associated with each word. Since the new jlpt N2 is the old jlpt 2 level, I could use it.

The way the card are organized is not just by usage, but also they tried to group by kanji. I decided to see if I could reschedule my deck to see in priority the cards for JLPT N2.

After some digging using Anki browser with query like “deck:current card:1 jlptlevel:4 is:new”, I could see that I have still:

  • 38 unseen card for jlpt 4
  • 703 unseen card for jlpt 3
  • 921 unseen card for jlpt 2

I have decided to suspend all my cards:

  1. "deck:current card:1 is:new"
  2. select all
  3. click on “suspend”
  4. "deck:current card:1 jlptlevel:4 is:new"
  5. select all
  6. click on “suspend” to unsuspend the card
  7. select all
  8. Reschedule “Place at end of new card queue”
  9. do from step 4 for level 3 and 2

Now I have all the 1662 card for jlpt 4, 3 and 2, scheduled in that order, which should keep me busy for the next 3 months or so… after that I will pick up the other card.

I will still try to check the list, but from what I have seen, it seems to make sense.

Filed under japanese jlpt anki

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What I learned doing a sample jlpt N3 test

Yesterday I finished taking a “dummy” jlpt N3 test that you can download from free from the jlpt website

First, the result:

  • Language Knowledge / 言語知識:47/60

  • Reading / 読解:51/60

  • Listening / 聴解:38/60

  • Total score / 総合得点:136/180

These are “raw score”. JLPT is doing some adjustment in order to generate a more accurate score, independently of the actual questions. I will write more about it later, but this is a very common things among this kind of exam.

Thus being said, since you need at least 95/180, I think I can say that I would have passed. Awesome!

What I learned:

  • The Reading section is long and I nearly didn’t finish in time. Even if I could understand very well, I struggled at the end by lack of time.
  • The Listening part was much more challenging than expected. There is definitely room for improvement here. Part of the difficulty was linked to polite speech.

Since I will be taking the N2 level, which is even more difficult, I will have to work on improving my reading speed and listening skills on top of the vocabulary and grammar.

Still, it feel good to know that I am starting with a level just above N3. Next step is to try a sample N2 exams.

for reference: my scanned answers (pdf, 16MB) and the official answers (pdf, 135kB).

Filed under jlpt n3 jlpt japanese

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Passing the N2: the plan

So, after deciding to pass the N2 (see previous post), I want to outline a few step.

Step 1: checking my level.

I have started doing the official JLPT N3 test (you can find it here for free, included audio). I will report my result as soon as I have finished.

After that I will do the same for an official JLPT N2 test. The goal is to assess more precisely my level and define a learning strategy, with my teacher, for my weaker points.

Step 2: setup a review schedule as soon as possible..

I have only 8 months left to get ready. It seems like a lot, but the “bottleneck” is how fast I can learn. My “learning velocity”

Even if no official list exists, you can find some rough estimate about the kanjis, vocabulary and grammar points needed to pass. 

For the kanjis, I am already way beyond what is required: the minimum is around 1000 kanjis but I know currently around 2400 kanjis (meaning and writing, but not all of the reading).

For the vocabulary, I am going through the infamous 10k list in Anki here: Core 2k/6k/10K Further Optimized. My current velocity is 20 new words a day. Since I have already reviewed 3,500 words, I should be around 8,000 words from this list by the time of the exam. As I plan to add words on a more “on demand” basis depending on my reading. I am confident that I can have memorized around 10,000 of the most common japanese words by the test, which is much more that the quoted figures of 6,000. I will give some internet links and build my own list in another post.

For the grammar, I have started a list that I will build from different web sites and books. There is maybe a few hundreds points here, but they need to be much more understood that vocabulary. I will invest in a few books.

For the reading comprehension part, I am already in the habit of reading original japanese content (LifeHacker is great in japanese). I will have to continue and increase my daily reading. I will take the time to reading more slowly and check more for comprehension.

For listening comprehension. Same here: I am used to listen to podcast and watch original drama on a daily basis. 

Filed under jlpt japanese

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My Next Challenge: Passing the JLPT N2 in June 2015

After summer, I have been thinking about what I should focus on for this year in Japanese. After spending 6 years studying, I felt that having a clear goal would help me.

For those who don’t know, the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) is the most (only?) used japanese language level certification. The test go in 5 levels, from N5 (easiest) to N1 (hardest).


After talking with my teacher, we felt that I could have a shot at N2. According to official stats, passing rate is around 40 %.

What makes it so motivating is that it’s the minimum required to actually work in japan. It has huge symbolic and motivation value to me. Having it would definitely open some doors.

My other motivation is that it will push me through upper-intermediate in a more structured ways. There is tons of vocabulary and grammar points to learn when going through intermediates and having a structured way, with books and reference, will give me a path.

Finally, I tend to be somewhat competitive and I want to crush it on the first try. After 6 years of studying my japanese, even if this is only symbolic, it will be an achievement that I can be proud of.

Sure, it will imply spending some time working on the exam and not only working on my japanese, but I feel it is worth it. 

If possible, I will pass it in Japan, after spending a couple of months there, to boost my level.

I’ll write more about it and explain my study plans, methods and results in this blog.

After the N2, the next focus will be business japanese.

Filed under japanese jlpt