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The Method: An Overview

OK, so the reasons this website is being written as blog are (1) because it’s fashionable: I mean, even your grandma probably has a blog (2) because, through your kindness, I can earn some cash, and (3) because it’s easy to grow a lot of content incrementally. Did I mention cash?

As you know, I spent 18 months learning Japanese hardcore (still learning it softcore now that I live in Japan), and in that time I learned a lot about both Japanese and just life in general. I have lot to throw at you, and it’s best to do it piecemeal.

Here’s what’s going to happen—when I write something new, it’ll be up on the front page (“Latest Updates”) of the blog in chronological order. And it will also be here on the right-hand side in hierarchical order. That way, you’ll always know what we’re talking about.

Right, let’s give you an overview of the method I used to learn Japanese to fluency in 18 months.

Phase 0: Belief

Start believing you can do it (you’re thinking “that’s stupid; Khatzumoto has been eating stale sushi again; how is this a phase?”, but you’d be amazed how many people set off on the noble journey of learning Japanese, but forget to first believe that they can reach their destination: what a dreadful way to begin a start off!) But not you. You’re going to start believing that you can and will become fluent in Japanese.

Believing in yourself is essential, but by itself it obviously won’t get you anywhere. We know that ability is useless without motivation, but motivation is not a substitute for knowledge and knowledge is gained through daily practice.

Phase 1: Get the equipment for daily practice

Language learning involves lots of memorization, and if you want to memorize large quantities of information over a long time, then drop the flashcards, mate. You need an SRS: a spaced repetition system.

An SRS is a program that tests you on electronic flashcards (which you make), at a frequency that it determines is best for you. The goal is to make this frequency high enough that you don’t forget, but low enough that you don’t waste your time. So the system will show you the card as infrequently as possible. Sounds like common sense? You could even manage it with paper cards, except that that would be a beastly, medieval amount of work to do. Trust me, I have tried managing paper flash cards in this way and it takes too much time. Let the computer do it for you.

There are many SRS around and many are free. The one I recommend to most people is Mnemosyne. I use it myself. It’s free (woohoo!), no-frills and low on features, but it’s high on doing-the-job-it’s-supposed-to-do-ness, which is what matters most. I used to use one called SuperMemo, it is the oldest but unfortunately its user interface is buggy and complex; I have a degree in computer science so that gives me the right to make authoritative comments on stuff like that :D. Haha, not really, but let me hit you with some knowledge: SuperMemo costs money.

If you don’t know already, then you’re going to learn how to input pieces of information into your SRS in a way that is most effective for learning Japanese.

Phase 2: Remembering the Kanji

Learn at least 2046 general use kanji in English, using James Heisig’s seminal book, Remembering the Kanji, Part I. You don’t need the other parts.

Yes. Given a single English keyword learn to write out every general use kanji from memory. Don’t argue with me, just do it. You’ll thank me later. What you do is input the stuff from the book into the SRS. If you think that’s tedious, then you’re right. But the data entry itself may help you remember. If you want to avoid the typing, you can join the Remembering the Kanji Yahoo Group, people there have typed the stuff up for you.

Do not: pause in your kanji study. Do not: start learning Japanese grammar on the side. Learn your kanji. If you’re going at like 25 kanji/day, then it will take 3 months. At 12 kanji/day, it will take 6 months. And that’s fine; if you’re a busy person with other commitments, then it’s going to take that much time. Stay the course. If you start today, you will thank me 6 months down the line.

Phase 3: Remembering the Kana

Learn the 46 hiragana and katakana respectively using Heisig’s Remembering the Kana. Why do this after kanji? Well

  1. You won’t have needed kana until this point, because you’ll only have been studying how to reproduce kanji from English keywords.
  2. After learning 2046 kanji, you will see the 92 kana for what they are: a walk in the cake.
  3. You can learn kana in as little as a few hours. Probably a day. At most a week. Kanji will take several weeks. Do the task that takes longer, first.

Phase 4: Sentences

Learn to read aloud 10,000 Japanese sentences (confession: I only learned ~7500 in the 18-month period, but you are better than me).

  • Do not: learn individual words. Learn sentences
  • Do not: translate sentences. Understand them instead.
  • Do not: learn grammar rules. Do get a feel for grammar, do read about grammar if you feel like it, but learning grammar rules in order to use a language is like learning quantum physics in order to drive a car. Sure, grammar rules are the rules of a language like quantum physics is the rules of the physical world. But it’s not practical.

You’re not a computer compiler, evaluating expressions based on rules. You’re a human being, and humans use a different logic. When you speak your native language, you generally are mixing and matching entire sentences. That’s what you want to do in Japanese — learn sentences, because not only do they give you the grammar, but also vocabulary and usage.

There you go, it’s that simple. Read on to find out more about each of these phases.

  8 comments for “The Method: An Overview

  1. Chris
    August 16, 2007 at 18:36

    Just wondering if you review kanji using keyword to kanji only as recommended by Heisig? I got through 2000 earlier this year and found my keyword to kanji recall was good but kanji to keyword recognition was slower and less consistent. Thanks for your help, Chris

  2. khatzumoto
    August 17, 2007 at 23:48

    I only went keyword–>kanji. The kanji–>keyword recall is slower, but that doesn’t matter. It will take care of itself with reading. Besides, you’re not going to be thinking in English anyhow; the keyword is just giving you a general feel for the core meaning of the kanji.

  3. Tony
    April 21, 2010 at 00:09

    I do not understand what you mean when you talk about sentence mining. You say learn to read aloud 10,000 sentences, but how do I do that since I do not know the readings of the kanji, only the meaning? Do you suggest reading things where the kana is transposed next to the kanji?

    P.S. sorry if this is covered somewhere else already, I am new to this site and it has a massive amount of material to go over.


  4. Aaron
    May 8, 2010 at 15:37

    Please elaborate on phase 4, as Tony requested above.

  5. Ruusi
    May 15, 2010 at 00:45

    To answer your question, and I’m not 100% sure on this, but from I’ve gathered from elsewhere on this site, at the sentence-mining stage, you won’t know the readings of the kanji, so when you encounter them, you look them up. The point of studying the kanji that way is so when you do encounter them, they are familiar, you can write them in the correct stroke order, and you can dissect them to guess at their meaning in context. The only thing left is to find out the kun-yomi and on-yomi. Sort of like only having to add new information to an index card, instead of having to make a new index card and figuring out how to file it away. I could be wrong, but as you don’t seem to be getting a response, I thought I’d throw in my two cents and try to help out. If you find something different, post it!

  6. arthur
    August 4, 2015 at 00:10

    i didn’t get it. i have to learn the kanjis but not the meaning in japanease?
    for example. 口 is moth in english. but 口 is “kuchi” as we read.
    i only have to learn that 口 is moth and not “kuchi”?
    shoud we forget the pronunciation for while?

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