Category Archives: vocabulary

Back In Japan: “Getting Over Zero”

I’m  back in Japan for a big part of the summer.  The jet lag hasn’t hit  yet, my wife is busy, so I’m in my home away from home—the  Aprecio manga kissa.

I managed to stay in a Japanese bubble for a large part of the trip.   I recently bought an iPad mini.  Part of my ‘packing’ involved loading the iPad with Japanese music and podcasts.  It was kind of like stepping into a time machine because my computer loaded in a lot of podcasts that I hadn’t listened to since 2009.

Re-discovered this.  It's interesting that materials for Japanese wanting to learning English can also help you learn Japanese.

Re-discovered this. It’s interesting that materials for Japanese wanting to learning English can also help you learn Japanese.

One that I particularly enjoyed was G+ 英語館 (Eigokan) a play on the Japanese word for movie theatre, ‘Eigakan’  (映画館).  This is a program that uses movies to teach English to Japanese viewers.  Each episode concentrates on two English phrases from the movie.   A bilingual English speaker explains in English and Japanese.   What’s nice is that even though it is geared towards learning English, a lot of the explanation is in Japanese so I get exposure to Japanese phrases.   The biggest selling point is that the episodes were interesting enough to break up the times when I woke up during the flight.

The Youtube clip has a lot more English because it includes an interview with Vigo Mortenson.  However, as I watched this, I realized I have made some progress with my Japanese.  Teaching and raising children has been intense so my Japanese “study” usually consists of 30 minutes of intentional study in the mornings, followed by little bursts of immersion when I can get it throughout the day through music, etc.   It’s not necessarily “All Japanese All the Time.”  However, I am the living embodiment of AJATT’s article, “Stop Trying to Do Things Well:  Getting Over Zero.”  Khatz writes:

Say no to 0. Do something. Anything. Any. Thing. Now. Play that Japanese. But don’t play Japanese that’s good for you. Don’t play something you “should” learn. Don’t should all over yourself — you do not have mental or physical bandwidth to do the right thing, let alone a right thing or even a good thing, all you can do is something. Don’t even bother to make sure the volume is up all the way; don’t bother make sure it loops forever; just play it. Now.

So yes, Eigokan had a lot of English.   But I was tired, bored, and on a thirteen hour flight.  This little podcast was entertaining enough to keep me interested in between heavy naps.   As I watched, I noticed myself doing a couple of things:

  • checking the Japanese subtitles to see how they were translated
  • waiting anxiously for the hosts Japanese explanation of phrases that I already knew well in English

During my time here in Japan there are actually a lot of things that I have to do in English:  writing projects, courses I have to plan etc.   Luckily I am in an environment where I am constantly “Getting Over Zero.”

Jet-laggedly yours, Samurai Juan.

Keep on Hacking, Samurai!

When I first tried to start immersing in Japanese, I carried around a CD player and an electric Japanese dictionary.  (Yes, I was one of those guys who refused to get the latest technology.)  I ditched the CD player many moons ago and when I bought an iPod and then an iPhone.  I left the denshi jisho at home and started using the Midori app.  My arms and my back thanked me as I dropped all the weight.

Midori allows you to create different lists in addition to allowing you to view your history. I started lists of vocabulary from a few books but these days I just try to enjoy books and immerse in vocabulary through context.

Midori allows you to create different lists in addition to allowing you to view your history. I started lists of vocabulary from a few books but these days I just try to enjoy books and immerse in vocabulary through context.

Midori is a robust little Japanese-English dictionary app that allows you to look up Japanese and English words and names, either by typing or drawing the kanji.  One nice feature is that Midori allows you to create word lists and also allows you to create flashcards from those vocabulary.

I have a couple of “rules” when I look up and study vocabulary:

  • I have to be genuinely interested in the word.  When it comes up again on flashcards, I like to have some pleasant association.  Like when I went on a hiking trip with three Japanese folks in their 60’s.   We stopped at a souvenir shop and discovered bags of candied rice grasshoppers (いなご).  Pleasant.
  • I don’t have to “finish” studying vocabulary on my list.  Midori is mainly an option when I don’t have internet access, I don’t have easy access to a book, and have a little “crack” of time.  I just take a little off the top each time.  When it stops being fun or starts feeling like work, I stop.

However, I’ve added a little change to my vocabulary games.  Learning vocabulary by studying words in isolation is not the most efficient way to learn vocabulary.  Both antimoon and ajatt have both clearly laid out why using sentences and engaging content are the best way to acquire vocabulary and another language.   (Informallanguage goes as far as saying “Disregard grammar …acquire vocabulary.  Kind of unrelated but a fun post.)

It's great to look over the history of which words you've looked up.

It’s great to look over the history of which words you’ve looked up.

Lately, I realized that I was falling into the learning vocabulary by isolation “rut.”   So I’ve added a step to Midori flashcard reviews.  Once I come across a word I’ve forgotten, I look up the word again.   Most definitions include sample sentences. I read those sentences aloud (or mumbling if I’m in the subway–just another New Yorker talking to himself in tongues 🙂 ).   I stop before I’m bored.  I “own” a few more words because of that.

The bigger point is to keep inventing games for yourself. Daniel Coyle, author of The Little Book of Talent, writes that when you get in a rut you need to shake it up:

Research by Dr. K. Anders Ericsson, a professor of psychology at Florida State University and co-editor of The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance, shows that the best way past a plateau is to jostle yourself beyond it; to change your practice method so you disrupt your autopilot and rebuild a faster, better circuit.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Khatz, the dude that turned me on to that little book, recently wrote “Dude. Do It. It Will Work.”  He explains why you should keep on following your mind and trying new methods:

Because I just know. It’ll work.
And even if doesn’t work…it’ll work.

Because when you do it, you become a doer, a tryer, a player1. You become the kind of person who:

  1. Has crazy ideas, and
  2. Actually acts on them

I know, doing flashcards differently is not shaking up the world but it’s all part of how I am moving in ways that I wasn’t two years ago.  Party on. Excellent.

Go and Let Go: Samurai Time is On Your Side, Pt. 2

Work joyfully and peacefully, knowing that right thoughts and right efforts will inevitably bring about right results. James Allen

Its good to have lofty goals, big goals. But the journey of a thousand miles can begin with a pair of crappy sneakers.

As I did my Nei Kung exercises in sight of the majestic peak of Mount Fuji, I had a Tom Cruise Last Samurai Realizationt(TCLSR).  With whatever you want to learn, master, or play around with you must ‘Go and Let Go.’  Cue slow motion scene of me doing ‘Embracing Horse’ on a pristine beach.  [Truth in advertising: You couldn’t see Fuji and they were burning trash on the beach, but I was doing Nei Kung.]   Here’s the skinny:

  • Growth  comes from pushing and from releasing.  In terms of short term and long term memory acquisition, rest and spacing are just as important as acquiring new information.  In terms of muscle building and push ups, ouch! 🙂
  • Boredom is information.  Maybe it means it’s time to take a break or completely let go.
  • Consistently trying in a direction is important but you have to bob and weave and change it up. Sometimes you just have to, ‘fly like a butterfly and sting like a bee.’ (or vice versa!)
  • Time limits work. Time pressure can be your friend.


Growth  comes from pushing and releasing

The day of our path can often be a little less um, scenic, than our lofty goals. Luckily, you have a pair of crappy sneakers to help you dance above and through it all.

I came to this realization as I gazed out at the smoke billowing amongst the piles of random sea trash  Suruga Bay.   In between my Nei Kung exercises I did teeny weeny sprints of Japanese vocabulary flashcards on my iPod. (It’s better to do sentences but I’ll leave it up to to explain that to you.)  The cards cycle back until you master them four times.  I decided that I would do the cards until a) a hard card I had just mastered was repeated or b) when I got bored.

Stopping works on several levels.   Taking a break allows information to cook in.   Reviewing it at the appropriate time seals in the flavah! Push, release, push, release.  Kegels for the brain.  (If you don’t know what kegels are you haven’t had a child recently.)  Check out information on Spaced Repetition SystemsAnki (an online and offline flashcard program), and the “Equipment” section of (you don’t have to be studying Japanese to get a lot out of this website.)

Boredom is information. Use it.

A natural place to stop or change your study method is when you are bored.  Boredom is information.  Either you need to change what you are studying or doing or change your state of mind about it.   In the case of the flashcards on the beach, I just stopped and came back to it pretty soon again.  Sometimes, you just need to get rid of whatever particular bit you are studying, or you will be in danger of derailing the whole process.  Lately, I’ve been reluctant about looking at my Samurai notebook.   The main culprit is the fact that there is a lot of must-do stuff inside of this book instead of the Steve Chandler quotes and other fun stuff I have in other notebooks.  If a card, fact, page, book, idea is boring get rid of it.  It will save you a lot of time.

Consistency is important but you have to bob and weave and change it up.

Anki,, flashcard systems can help you untangle the flotsam and jetsam. But its also important to keep exploring and having fun. Polished stones and driftwood.

Pulling out the flashcards on the beach was kind of an inspiration.  Try changing up your methods and approaches to what you are trying to master and make sure you are having fun.   As Khatzumoto explains, fun gets done.  All the words I collected had some kind of fun memory attached to it.  Bob and weave with methods and approaches to keep it fun, to cross train.

Time Limits Work

Lately I’ve noticed that pushes go better for me when they are squeezed into little moments: quick little reviews on the bus or in between exercise sets.   As I write this, my time at the mangakissa is running out.  Part of the reason I like working here is that there is a built in time pressure.   I have to pay for this time and I have to pay even more if I go over time in my little cubicle.  One last push.  Release.   Go and let go.   Samurai time is on your side.

I enjoy and look forward to your comments!

Samurai Time is on Your Side, pt. 1


Samurai Need App

I have a week off from school and I plan to spend some quality time with my family and my Iphone.  Ipad, Iphone, Isurrendered.   Yes, I got an Iphone.  I got tired of people telling me that my Palm Treo should be donated to the Smithsonian.  I also wanted to have the ability to study Japanese flashcards on the fly.

Having an iPhone is like having a little television everywhere you go.  (See Don’t Watch TV).  I was hanging out with my lovely little family this weekend. We had our Macclaren stroller tuned up (yep, Pimpin’ Our Ride), shopped for pens at Muji, strolled through China town, purchased an iPhone case for my wife, and stopped at an Italian cafe to rest before the train ride home.

The whole time I was hanging out with my family, it felt like the iPhone was burning a whole in my pocket.  I wanted to check the internet and do my flashcards and I even pulled out for a few swipes.

When we got home I got all app’ed up.   With a little one year old propped on my lap, I searched iTunes for Japanese learning apps.  Then I installed them.   The girls wanted to play “put the change back in the giraffe piggy bank” and I obliged, but I kept running back to check on the progress of different downloads, etc.  As far as paying full attention to the girls, at that point I was iTuned out.

I could foam at the foam at the mouth about how it’s important to be careful about how electronic devices, split our attention and how it can be detrimental to our human connection.   However, I’d rather tell you what kinds of apps I got!:)

Kotoba! free

I was feeling the hunger for being able to study Japanese when I was out of the reach of internet.  This little program has a dictionary and allows you to look up kanji using several methods, including by school level and by levels of the Japanese Proficiency Level Test (JLPT).

Japanese  ($9.99)

This program was recommended by my Japanese learning fellow traveler, Rob.  It functions as a J-E, E-J dictionary and also has a ton of sample sentences for each word.  If you don’t understand a word in a sentence, you can just touch it and voila–more words to learn.   You can also create flashcards for each word.   What’s great about the flashcards is that you can hit the little “i” icon and get more information and sample sentences.   Sentences are the best way to learn words.

 Midori ($9.99)

Midori has similar functions to the Japanese program.  It has sample sentences but I like how the Japanese app allows me to see each individual sentence in larger font.   Midori allows you to create flashcards and also has the added bonus of being able to draw kanji on the screen.  I like that I can read a book, look up a word and then make a flashcard out of it.

Shakespeare from

After weeks of reading cheesy self-help fair (and loving it!), I felt a need to wax poetic and I looked up Shakespeare apps.  I headed straight towards Hamlet.   Even though I just in the first act, I’m already getting the poetic spice my mind was craving.  “Disasters in the sun.”  Wicked.

iSamurai, iWarning

I have to be careful with the iPhone, both literally and figuratively.  A guy in Williamsburg was pushed on to the tracks by two thieves who wanted to take his iPhone while he was reading the Bible.  (The Bible!)  Luckily he’s okay (and the news explained that the thieves didn’t get away with his iPad).   There are also tremendous human costs in the production of creating products like iPods, iPads, etc.  as the New York Times has recently pointed out.

There’s also just the fact that electronic devices can just take me away.   Sometimes, you just have to look up from your apps and look at the balmy February sky!