How To Banish Boredom from Sentence-Mining (Sentence-Picking)

This entry is part 8 of 11 in the series Secrets to Smoother SRSing

A few days ago, a reader of this site sent me this email:

The problem I’m having is that it takes me an awfully long time to add these sentences. Even when I just copy and paste them from the Yahoo dictionary into a Word document for later transferral to Mnemosyne – it takes ages! I use the Rikaichan Firefox extension to learn the readings before I can type up the kana answers to the sentences and then I add in the English translation because I’m not up to Japanese-Japanese interpretations yet.

So, I was wondering, do you know of any techniques to speed up this process — is there any program you use that makes formatting all the data an easier process? Do you enter all your question and answer sentences straight into your flash card program?

As enjoyable, effective and simple the 10,000 sentences method must be – the work thus far of adding all these sentences is horribly boring and repetitive and slow. So, any suggestions?

With the length of time I’ve been doing Japanese sentences, a lot of the process has become unconscious to me. And somehow, I never get bored with it, nor find it slow and repetitive repetitive. So, a while ago, I would have told this kid to suck it up. But, now that I’m on the Chinese project, I have tasted this, this, “boredom” thing people speak of. But I have found out a way to overcome the boredom, restore fun to sentence-collecting, and bring balance to the Force. Here is my advice for making your study more enjoyable:

1. We’ve been calling the process “sentence-mining”. Looking back, it was fun sort of coining a new, cool-sounding phrase, but unfortunately, it’s a misnomer. Mining is so industrial, so rough, like carpet-bombing and massive smoke stacks. So not Toyota Prius. A better name would be sentence-picking, or even clause-picking or phrase-picking (since you don’t necessarily have to pick an entire sentence). Picking. You know, like berries — you go for the big, red/purple juicy, ripe, sweet ones. Mmmm…Remember, selectivity is key. Your goal is not to collect every sentence to which you have access, your goal is to collect sentences that are interesting to you. Think of it like baseball cards or stamps: unlike Pokemons, you don’t have to get them all. You only want the cool ones. Only pick sentences that are interesting to you at that moment. Only pick sentences that contain something you REALLY, ACTIVELY want to learn immediately. Not something you think you “should” learn. Not something that you think you “have to” learn. But something you really really really want to learn RIGHT NOW. RIGHT HERE. Those are the sentences you should pick to enter into your SRS. There are too many sentences even in a single dictionary for you to pick them all. Only pick the ones you care about right then. And feel free to change your mind — maybe yesterday, you wanted to learn that sentence, but today you can’t be bothered. Throw it out, find something cooler, and enter that cooler sentence into your SRS.

I can hear the complaints already: “but Khatzumoto, if I only learn what I want to know, how will I learn what I need to know???”. Trust me. By learning what you want to know, what you need to know will come naturally. I mean it. You can go through the entire process only learning things you want to learn and still succeed: I did. In fact, the best path to success I know is the path of most enjoyment. It may not be the shortest path, but it will definitely feel like it. Boredom can only kill your will to learn, and endanger the very success you are seeking.

2. Unless you habitually automatically import files into your SRS, you are probably doing your entries by hand. So, to reduce your workload, remove as many intermediate processes as you can. As far as possible enter directly into your SRS. Writing things in notebooks or compiling Word files for later addition has its place, but it does get really boring and it creates extra work for you since you have to go back and look at those notebooks or whatever later: Look at it this way: if a sentence is important enough for you to learn, then it’s important enough to go straight into your SRS (the reverse is also true — if you can’t be bothered to put that sentence into the SRS, then it wasn’t worth it in the first place), without any intermediate steps. Removing intermediate steps also reduces the probability of errors creeping in during those inter-step transfers (typing in, extra copy-and-pasting, etc.)

3. Use online or software dictionaries. Sentence-picking is not a typing exercise. Reduce your typing load as far as possible. Software dictionaries allow you to copy and paste: this will save you oodles of time which you can put towards learning more sentences (that you want to learn), and ultimately help you get better in less time.

Series Navigation<< Secrets to Smoother SRSing, Part 7: The Place of Pre-Mined SRSing and Other RamblingsPopping Bubblewrap: Tips for Better SRS Sentence Items >>

  23 comments for “How To Banish Boredom from Sentence-Mining (Sentence-Picking)

  1. Dado
    August 31, 2007 at 13:37

    I wonder if you have any particular technique for memorizing sentences. I mean when you have a new sentence to add in your SRS, do you spend some time with it in any way or do you simply add it and let the SRS do the rest? Do you do a “rote repetition” the first time you see a new compound or something? I notice when I add new sentences I keep forgetting readings over and over finding myself overwhelmed by a huge amount of sentences I’ve already seen many times, and this slows me down. Should I bother doing rote repetition on the new compound readings or what?

  2. khatzumoto
    August 31, 2007 at 17:17

    >do you spend some time with it in any way
    YES! You do need to make some conscious effort to memorize it. The SRS will help you NOT forgot by bringing it up again. But you do have to get the sentence into at least your short term memory. The SRS will take care of the long-term.

    >Should I bother doing rote repetition on the new compound readings or what?
    Well, you need to look at them. You need “GET” them at some point. Otherwise, you won’t so much “FORGET” them as you will never have GOTTEN them in the first place. Read, think, observe, then move on. You don’t need to spend a lifetime on it, but if the sentence is worth learning, then it is worth a little time.

  3. beneficii
    September 1, 2007 at 01:29

    Quick question: My listening comprehension and reading comprehension still both suck the dickens, so I should still wait until those are satisfactory before I start producing output right?

    Also, I was reading this article:

    Which when I think about it does make sense. How many foreigners live here in America that still speak broken English, one wonders? I see them all the time. But still, children live in the country and they end up speaking fine, so what’s the difference? It seems the difference to me is that kids are taken care of by their parents: There’s no need to speak, to produce output early, to survive. While a foreign adult is expected to find work, food, shelter, and all other essentials for himself, unless he is married and has a spouse that will take care of that for him and will work to socialize him into that country. I call it the “Caretaker effect” in language learning; it is probably by that effect that the best language learning at all occurs.

    Also, I’m taking a class at my local university called “Introduction to Japanese Literature and Culture”; when I saw the course title, I thought, great. This is a class that will get me to read Japanese and then test my reading comprehension abilities to see how well I’m coming along. You know, I always thought my reading comprehension was bad (it was pretty bad when I was as kid too). I also thought this was an opportunity to keep up with the Japanese people at the university. Well, I attended the class for the first time today, and I’m already disappointed. I forgot that it was also a “culture” class, and it’s like an advanced conversation class. I hear classmates speaking poor Japanese and see the teacher wanting to get the students to produce output right off the bat.

    It’s not like I just want to give them the middle finger or anything; these are probably good, fun people in this class–it’s just I’ve already gotten defensive, because I really don’t want to produce output right now. (Then again, I was never the most social person in my life). I had been producing shoddy, poorly spoken output for 2 years leading up to a few months ago, when I changed my methods. I wonder if the class is really that worth it (and I’ve regretted taking it, because I could have instead taken something that would have helped me progress in my major, for which I’ve already met all the foreign language requirement). I’m considering dropping it now.

    What do you think?

  4. advisorbraid
    September 1, 2007 at 01:50

    How do you know the proper reading for the kanji in the sentences if they have two or more with the exact same definition? I’ve been getting sentences with words I’d like to understand but when I try to create the reading, sentences like “この電車は品川行きですか” have 【行き】 which could be read as いき or ゆき according to RikaiChan. How do you decide if the source only gives the kanji and the automated readings give both?

  5. anders
    September 1, 2007 at 07:35

    Since you mentioned
    Do you know of any Japanese personal development blogs, or maybe a collection of PD articles on the internet (in Japanese)?

  6. khatzumoto
    September 1, 2007 at 08:44

    The last time I looked (a few months ago) I didn’t find any decent ones (that were free)…I’ll keep an eye out. What I’ve done is mainly buy books–some are translations into Japanese of English PD, others are homegrown Japanese.

  7. khatzumoto
    September 1, 2007 at 08:44

    beneficii: it sounds like you’ve already made your decision…do what’s best for your Japanese.

  8. khatzumoto
    September 1, 2007 at 08:47


    >How do you know the proper reading for the kanji in the sentences if they have two or more with the exact same definition?
    Well, in theory, you don’t. You have to confirm with a third party. By the way, in that case, you would want to read it as “ゆき”. I could give you a rule of thumb for telling when to say いき or ゆき, but it’s just based on my personal observation and I’m not sure that it always works…I learned it case-by-case myself.

  9. khatzumoto
    September 1, 2007 at 09:13

    anders, try these google searches:

    and this direct link: Lifehack Japan!

  10. anders
    September 1, 2007 at 20:12

    Thanks 🙂
    That lifehack page seems interesting, I’ll definitively check it out after doing my reps.

  11. ジェームス
    September 2, 2007 at 07:27




  12. khatzumoto
    September 2, 2007 at 08:40

    親分です(笑)。1日中100個以上は練習で・き・ま・すよ。最初の100個ぐらいを練習し終わった後、アイテム追加ページの「Do More Reps」或いはメインメニューの「Review (do reps)」という其々のボタンのどちらかを押下したら、50個ずつ自由無制限に反復練習し続けられます。

  13. Tony
    September 3, 2007 at 11:08

    So I’m in the beginning of the SRS thing. What I’m doing at the moment is to look up the English definition and the Japanese definition. I’m using Anki though and I really don’t have any idea how to format it even though you’re supposed to be able to. But basically I make the Japanese I want to learn on one side of a flashcard, the Japanese definition and example sentence on the back side, and I have the reading show up at the bottom. Then I have two cards which don’t show up but I can look at if I need to, and those are where/when/who i heard it from and the English equivalent of a word so I can get an idea in the beginning. But usually I’m sticking to just the Japanese-Japanese which is getting in pretty quickly right now, so that’s another idea.

  14. quendidil
    September 3, 2007 at 17:50

    Hey khaztzumoto, do you know of any way to check for upcoming concerts in Japan? I’m going to Japan in December and I’m sort of planning to go for a concert or something. Regretably, I have no social network there at all, there are a few おばさん wives of Japanese expats where I’m living but I have no friends living in Japan, should I stalk the おばさん達?

  15. September 4, 2007 at 03:53

    [Right. Less deliberation, more action. Every moment we spend arguing is a moment we could have spent learning. This is why I quit visiting Japanese forums early on; the community is so busy with petty internal feuding (IN ENGLISH) that it’s forgotten why it was there in the first place.]

    Oh, yes. I see this every day on writing forums. The best way to keep from achieving anything is to spend that time arguing with people who haven’t achieved anything.

    quendidil, if you have iTunes, try iConcertCal. It’s an iTunes plugin that basically works as a concert calendar for your music collection. You plug in a city, and it cross-checks with all sorts of concert listings for approaching concerts in that city by artists in your catalogue. I use it in the US, but I think it works around the world, too.

  16. taijuando
    September 5, 2007 at 10:29

    Thanks for the inspiration. I like your action oriented method and your writing spurs me on. I bought a book called kanji power many moons ago. After I discovered Heisig, I stopped working with it and copying kanji over and over again. Now I realize it’s packed with 100’s of rich sample sentences, most of which I like, and find useful. When I need a break from reviewing I input new sentences and vice versa. More results slowly day by day. Now I feel I can use all the books that I purchased and really make them count.

  17. Anna C.
    September 7, 2007 at 11:20

    Wonderful advice, as usual! But I have a question that’s not quite related to this post but I didn’t see covered in your archives and that is the question of accents.

    See, everyone is so discouraging when you learn a new language and say you’ll always ‘sound like a foreigner’ and this is a bit depressing. I realize that certain speech patterns are set and all that but what would be your advice and aquiring an authentic accent (Japanese or any other language)?

    Thanks again!

  18. khatzumoto
    September 7, 2007 at 12:05

    ACT. It pretend you ARE from that country. Pretend you’re that Jared kid from “The Pretender”, and that your life depends on you convincing people that you were born and raised in whatever country has native speakers of your language. Pick specific people (often, actors) to imitate and copy their mannerisms, look at the way their mouths are shaped, their hand gestures, the facial muscles they use. Be like a comedian doing impressions.

    You stop being foreign when you stop believing you are foreign, at least in terms of the language. Hold yourself to the same standard as a native speaker–if someone had to talk to you on the phone, they shouldn’t be able to tell. Never fall for the excuse of “oh, it’s not my native language”. You needn’t be harsh on yourself, just always be looking for ways to improve.

    I had a Japanese friend who self-taught English, and when I first met her I thought she was Japanese-American: it was that flawless. She told me she’d watched a lot of TV and movies, and had changed the way she acted and used her facial muscles and shaped her mouth when making sounds.

    So, input and imitation. Input, because you have to hear a lot of examples not just of certain words, but certain COMBINATIONS or strings of words. Words change a bit when people shout, intonation changes based on emotion.

    Also, pauses. Use the same pauses and bridges as native speakers. So, no “um” because “um” is English, find the equivalents of “um” and “uhhhuhhh” in the languages you are learning.

    What else…YES! I call it “doping”. In semiconductor production, doping refers is the process of deliberately introducing impurities into an extremely pure material in order to obtain better/desired performance properties. In learning a language, doping is the process of almost “dumbing-down” or de-streamlining your spoken language by introducing inefficient elements that have function but no meaning, and serve to make it more natural and native-like. You see, foreigners, tend to learn from texts and textbooks. And text is much, much more efficient (“pure”) than speaking. In text you get straight to the point:
    A) “This is an example”. [4 words, 0 long pauses]
    But in speech, you amble zig zigzag-zag toward your point:
    B) “Well, um, this is, like, an example or whatever…kind of, I dunno”. [13 words, 1 long pause]
    Native speakers are wasteful and inefficient. This is why the Borg in Star Trek despise human communication. In my experience, native speakers use perhaps 2 or 3 times the number of words they “need”, and all that extra baggage has no lexical meaning. “Um” does not mean anything. “Like” does not really mean anything. It’s all just filler.

    Make your speech more native-like by making it more wasteful–I know, it sounds crazy, but it’s the truth. If you speak too plainly, without any flavor, you come out sounding robotic or just foreign (often both). Also, the wasteful pauses can help buy you time when you need to remember a specific word–you do this in your native language, too–you don’t remember a specific word or phrase, so you keep stringing words or phrases that are close to it in meaning and until you hit the jackpot. Examples:
    A) “Is it like a wiki or a blog, or, like a CMS or something?”.
    B) “I’ve never, like really had Japanese food, Or, I guess, been to a Japanese restaurant or whatever, at least on my own. I mean, I can, like, read the menu, but, um, you know, what’s actually inside it–the stuff, you know, the food, the tendon or whatever…Is what I want to know?”.
    Not very good examples, but I think you get the point.

    Finally, you want to swallow the words that native speakers swallow. For example, in Japanese, there is word: 雰囲気. Technically, it should be pronounced “fun-i-ki”, but native speakers swallow it and say “fuinki”; I say it the garbled, native way.

    Oh, one more thing–pick an accent. The easiest to pick is the standard accent since it tends to have the most materials produced in it. Either way, pick a focus: pretend the people who speak that dialect are your parents and classmates–functionally, they are.

    Finally (for real), try recording yourself now and then. It can reveal where you need work.

  19. khatzumoto
    September 7, 2007 at 12:25

    Don’t let anyone tell you it can’t be done. They’re generally trying to excuse their own failure. To put it more kindly, it just means that they don’t know a way. I’m not trying to just give people hope here–actors do it all the freaking time. Anyone who makes the effort can. Pretend your life depends on it (but you also get all the practice time and materials you need), because if it did, by Billy you would find a way. Anyway, I simply cannot fathom settling for foreignerness in any language; that’s just weaksauce.
    This is kind of a weird suggestion and I’ve only done it some of the time, but, consider speaking your native language in the accent of the language you’re learning. You should avoid speaking your native language at all, but if you must…twist it to your own ends.

  20. Tony
    September 14, 2007 at 11:47

    So to throw this out (not really related to Japanese but more related to linguistics that I learned in general)

    “Anyway, I simply cannot fathom settling for foreignerness in any language; that’s just weaksauce.”

    There’s a theory that’s pretty simple called “linguistic convergence/divergence.” Converging means to try and talk like the person you’re talking to/divergence means you try and act really differently. So a simple example in English would be like, an American and a British meeting and one of them would try and speak like/come closer to the accent of the other (converge), or they could make their accents a lot thicker (divergence). My teacher talked about a French/Spanish (I could totally be making that up) actress who spoke Spanish as a child but always speaks with a French accent to stand out. I doubt most people are consciously doing this though, and are unaware that they’re doing it (when it comes to foreign languages at least) as they’ve probably never considered the fact that they can obtain the same accent as a native.

  21. Sarah
    December 19, 2007 at 10:00

    I experienced the same boredom with writing the Kanji (I know it’s different, but that email reminded me of it). The tool on my computer for writing Kanji (IME standard) has a looong long list of Kanji based on how many strokes it takes to write it. I wanted to input a certain Kanji (that was an image file). So I would get to a moderately complicated one and think “how many strokes” and I would search through the list over and over, Kanji swarming all around me, and I would get really bored with it. And fast! Only 5 kanji and I was wiped out. Then I noticed you can draw the Kanji on another tab. It took a while for me to get the hang of the strokes, but it’s so much fun and I’m learning how to correctly write it along the way! If you don’t stroke it right, the Kanji you have to choose from is completely different. Anyway, I’m sure alot of people know this, but for any beginners out there, I highly recommend drawing the Kanji! You don’t need great drawing skills or a tablet or whatever. And it totally beats picking Kanji out of Japanese websites and pasting them where you want to write xD

  22. Peter
    June 21, 2008 at 15:21


    My second question in a day: do translations of western books into Japanese make good ‘orchards’ for sentence-picking? My assumption is that, because translators from Japanese is the native language are doing the translating, the sentences will be ‘good’ idiomatic Japanese. Is this assumption incorrect?

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