Of course, the main reason I’m learning Chinese is because I love Chinese characters; they’re logical, useful and beautiful. But there is another motivation for this project — it acts as a sort of time machine, taking me back, if you will, to when I was first studying Japanese; this helps me better understand how a beginner thinks and feels, because it is easy to forget — just like I suddenly find myself not having any idea how children think and feel, despite having so recently been a child for so many years.
Of course, Chinese and Japanese are different, but they are similar enough (writing system that is logographic and emphasizes meaning over pronunciation) that methods for learning one can easily port to the other.
Anyway, on to the main topic. So, one of the things that I recommend as part of the method described on this site (and, indeed, on AntiMoon), is to GO MONOLINGUAL. Whatever language you are studying, start as soon as possible to study it only in itself. Only use Japanese to learn Japanese, etc.
But how does one go about making this transition? Well, you could just go cold turkey (I more or less did; the transition was very, very short). But I know at least one person who’s having trouble with that. Since I’m in the process of making a more gradual transition from Chinese-Japanese to Chinese-Chinese, this seems like a good opportunity to explain how to do it.
In the rest of this post (and in future posts), I may make more references to language-learning in general, rather than to a specific language. I feel kind of unqualified doing this, because although I have either been a native speaker of, or taken classes in about 7 languages, I’ve forgotten most of them through disuse and/or violently boring teaching methods. But since Japanese has an unfair reputation for difficulty, we can just pretend I have the right to speak about other languages as well, right? It can be our little secret.
Step 1. Accept that it will be a bit slower to begin with. This goes without saying. Due to lack of practice, you’re not yet as good at the target language as you are at the base language. That’s fine. The reduced speed will be more than made up for by the self-multiplying benefits of studying a language using itself. Looking up definitions of parts of definitions using a monolingual dictionary will deepen your qualitative and quantitative connection with a language no end. Your study of a given language is now using that language — this is a great thing; it means that every moment of your time is now a moment where you are thinking, using and therefore getting better at, the language in question.
Step 2. Just try it. Dip your toe in. Start mixing your lookups in the bilingual dictionary with lookups in the monolingual dictionary. Put monolingual and bilingual definitions side-by-side in SRS entries.
Step 3. Keep using sentences that have a translation in the base language (i.e. sentences from the bilingual dictionary, etc.), but only use definitions from the monolingual dictionary. If you are really stuck and don’t know what a word in the actual definition means, feel free to look that up in the bilingual dictionary — but look go find and use the relevant monolingual entry right afterwards.
Step 4. Out of the baby pool, into the fire (huh?). Go strictly monolingual. All lookups to be made only in a monolingual dictionary. You do not speak English any more. You do not know English.
Regardless of the step you are at, until you feel comfortable doing otherwise, I would include furigana/bopomofo/pinyin for the full text of monolingual definitions (i.e. those in the “answer” section of your SRS) — after all, it’s not like you are trying to test your knowledge of the answer section, so give yourself all the help you need.
If you don’t already have a monolingual dictionary, get one. A lot of people have the idea that they should save things like this for when they “get good”. Bad move. Don’t wait to get good to get materials in your target language. Remember, you get good at your target language by doing things in your target language. Ultimately, native fluency is both the cause and effect of acting native and experiencing things made by and for native users.
Again, if you can, I would just bite the bullet and go monolingual in one shot. As long as you keep using a different language B (base) to study language T (target), your thoughts of language T will be polluted by language B. Your conception of the meaning and usage of words in language T will suffer from language B-style thinking. Perhaps this is fine for a while if you’re laddering languages (in which case your motives lie as much in continuing to improve language B as in language T), but even then, only for a while.