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.

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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.

Why?
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.

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