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I am on day 572 of 595 in Silverspoon, an internet service designed to help people immerse themselves in Japanese and become fluent.   I like the fact that there are limited days.  These past weeks I’ve passed over opportunities to immerse in English media because in the back of my mind, I am always thinking, “I only have x days left.”   Time limits good.  Goals with time limits are powerful and effective.  The “race” is on.

Some of the things I carry: headphones, Heisig cards, One Minute Study Method Book, and kanji cards designed for Japanese fifth graders. Music or podcast is usually always on. Depending on my mood and travel conditions, I may pull out any of the other materials.

Tim O’Brien wrote a very powerful book about the Vietnam war called The Things They Carried.  The novel reads more like a poem describing the different objects, memories, and stories that the soldiers carried on their tour.   In a completely different vein, I just want to take a minute to describe some of the things that I carry as I try to immerse myself in Japanese.

A quick word about the methodology of Silverspoon, or at least how I interpret it.  When I log on to Silverspoon, everyday I open up a link and follow the day’s “sprints.”  This could involve anything from making monolingual (Japanese-Japanese) flashcards about a mouthwash ad to just doing flashcard repetitions in various time configurations.   These pushes are followed by “chillax” periods where you may have Japanese in the background but you aren’t consciously pushing on the language.

The pushes are punctuated throughout the day, which is a smart way to work because of the way memory and Spaced Repetition Systems work.   It is better to space out studying over the day than drill to kill.    As the memory of a new learned fact begins to “decay”, you get the opportunity to revive this fact and move it closer to storage in long term memory.

1分スピード記憶勉強法  (Study Method with One-Minute Speedy Memorizing) uses a matches to candle metaphor  for this process.   A fact learned with your short term memory is like a match.   If you don’t do anything eventually the fact will just extinguish it.  However, if you repeat it again, you can use it to light another “match”  and then another until finally all the last match can light the candle of long term memory.   A candle burns longer and is more dependable than a match.

On the back of these cards are Japanese definitions, sample sentences, and a humorous strip to reinforce the words. A lot of times the vocabulary is beyond my grasp. I give it a read and throw the card away. My thinking is that I will have other opportunities to have fun with this word. I stop looking at these cards when it feels like a chore.

Fun illustration from 1分スピード勉強法。 Short term memory expires quickly. However, through repetitions the memory can cover the distance to light the candle of long term memory.

Most of the “heavy lifting” in Silverspoon comes in the morning, when I make new flashcards and to the longest repetitions.   There are flashcard repetitions throughout the day, but they are interspersed with a lot of “chillaxing”  (or in my case, work and child care).

The nice thing about Silverspoon is that you get links to Japanese content that I wouldn’t have thought of before. I also do a lot less to almost no movie or anime watching than Silverspoon recommends.  I just don’t have a lot of time, so the links are really helpful.

But in the meantime, I have the things I carry:

  • iphone and a Bose Headphones:   Lately, I’ve been pushing a little bit by taking fifteen or less minutes to listening to japanesepod101.com lessons on my 40 minute walk to school.  The rest of the time I listen to Japanese music.  Lately, I’ve discovered a Japanese podcast called ラヂオ版 学問ノススメ Special Edition.  I discovered it by doing an iTunes search for Kenichiro Mogi  (茂木建一廊)、a Japanese brain scientist, author, and former television host.  I don’t understand most of the interviews but I listen for the tone.   Besides “chillaxing” I use the iPhone for the spare moments on line or waiting for the elevator to keep the matches lit.  I always keep a few iPhone windows always open to anki, surusu, Japanesepod101 and random Japanese  websites.
  • a wallet full of cards:  just in case I have a spare moment and don’t want to seem completely rude I have Heisig flashcards and a Japanese 5th grade cards that have

    I bought these cards for a $1 when the Asahiya Book store closed. 🙁 They come in a book that you can tear up. On the front of the card is the stroke order and some Japanese mnemonics to remember how to write it, in addition to the Japanese and Chinese readings.

    mnemonics on the front and sample sentences on the back ….

  • a man bag with at least one Japanese book in it:   I pull this out when I can get a seat on the subway or when I am waiting at a doctor’s office.  Right now, I just read for fun and skip over words and kanji I don’t understand.   Really, relaxing and having fun with target language material is the ultimate “repetition.”  Reinforcing through fun.  Exposure to new material without that high stakes, “gotta study” feeling.
  • If I can’t get a seat on the subway or the trip is very short, I pull out the Midori flashcard app on my iPhone.   However, I’ve realized (even though it’s been drilled over to me by the likes of AJATT since Day 1) that studying single vocabulary words without the context of sentences is one of the least productive things to do.  However, it’s nice to keep moving when I have a few minutes.

Stay in motion. You learn the things that you carry.   What’s in your wallet?   What are you trying to learn?   What do you carry?  What could you carry?  What would be fun?   Keep in touch and let us know.