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What It’s Like In The Beginning When You Don’t Know Jack. Or, How To Watch Japanese TV.

A while ago, someone asked me what it’s like in the beginning. What it was like for me when starting on this journey to becoming one with Japanese. It’s a great question, and I think the answer will be valuable, so here are some points I thought up.

1. It’s scary

When starting out Japanese, the idea itself is intimidating. You see a wallful of kanji, and it’s intimidating. You see a pageful of Japanese, and it’s intimidating. You hear real Japanese, and it’s intimidating. After all, how are you supposed to learn all that? No WAY! No WAY! It’s too much, it’s too scary. If I just read a lot then in the near future I’ll be able to do that? To understand that? Pull the other one! Well, you will.

2. You only understand a little

I say to watch TV and movies, listen to music, eat food, hang out with people, all in Japanese. But, yeah, you won’t understand a lot of it. But that’s why you have to expose yourself to it. Because I guarantee you will pick up one word. Now, look up that word. Get an example sentence with that word in it. OK, back to TV. Pick up another word. Get an example sentence of with that word in it. OK, back to TV. ‘Nother word. ‘Nother sentence. Back to TV. Repeat…You see where this is going? What’s that, you picked up a phrase? A sentence? A scene? You go on, building, growing, increasing until the situation inverts such that eventually you’re no longer looking up the one and only word you do understand, you’re looking up the one and only word you don’t understand.

No matter how complex and impossible it may seem, remember that there are a finite number of words used in Japanese. It’s spoken daily by a finite number of human beings who learned it in a finite time with finite resources using their finite energy, just like you. You may have far to go, but it’s far from impossible. It may take time, but since you’re going to be spending the time anyway, you might as well spend it learning Japanese.

Using authentic materials — that is, materials created by and for native speakers of Japanese, is hard work. But it’s a good gauge of where you are, and it can actually be really motivating; it’s a living reminder of what you’re shooting for. To make the things easier, I would suggest you do two things.

a. Initially, do use materials intended for learners of Japanese, but always have real Japanese in your immersion environment, and start to gradually wean yourself off Japanese-English materials as soon as you can.

b. No matter what your level, always feel free to use and enjoy materials that were originally in your native/base language, but have been translated into Japanese by pros. Hollywood movies are a great example. Watch American movies and TV shows dubbed into Japanese. Right now, I’m big into Princeton Break, I mean, Prison Break. Wentworth Earl Miller III is my new favorite action hero. And like Crystal Kay, he is, in fact, black.

3. Failure is the mother of success

This is true of both input (reading, understanding) and output (writing, speaking). You’re going to “fail”. A lot. “Fail” is a strong word, but it’s the only short one I could think up. Every time you don’t know what something means or how to say it, we call it a “failure”. You recover from this failure by either inferring what could be meant, restating/rewording yourself, consulting a person or dictionary for the correct way to say something, or some combination thereof. And after each of these “failures”, you make sure to enter it into your SRS, so that you’ll remember it. The next time you are in a similar situation, you will not “succeed”; eventually you’ll increase your successes and reduce your failures to a point that you can be called fluent.

4. The Exam Effect

Another thing I will add is this: once in a while, when you look up a new word in order to understand a sentence, you may still be standing there not knowing what the sentence means even though you know what every individual word in the sentence means. No matter. Learn example sentences that use that word where you DO know what the sentence means. Some time later, you will come back to the original sentence, and you will understand it completely, and you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about.

I don’t really know why this is. Maybe there’s just some background knowledge of the underlying linguistic logic of Japanese that’s lacking. It’s like when you’re taking an exam, and you read a question and you’re completely stumped (like, “WTF? This is gibberish; there goes my GPA”) and you skip over the question, but then you come back to it later, and it makes perfect sense, you answer it instantly, your GPA is saved and you get to keep your scholarship. The only difference is that, in the case of a Japanese sentence, the time will be on the order of weeks rather than hours.

5. Work Now, Payoff Later

Let me be frank. Mining for sentences is fun, but it’s intense and it can get tiring.

Payoff comes later. That’s why it matters to much that you enjoy your study materials, because you will be using and reusing them so brutally. You’re going to watch Independence Day a lot, and you’re going to wear out the “pause” button on your remote. You’re going to keep pausing it and mining the subtitles for new words. So if Independence Day bores you, your life will start sucking. Conversely, if it doesn’t, then things are good, and you can keep pausing and mining for hours on end.

Because you work so hard on the material, you don’t get to sit back and relax with it as much. This does take out some of the enjoyment. Not a lot, just a tiny deduction because you’re exerting yourself so much. So make sure you watch and listen to things you really, really enjoy, in order that you don’t feel that much of an enjoyment deduction.

This is not at all to say that work in the beginning sucks; it’s fun; it is fun. But the true reward comes later—days, weeks and months down the line when you’re doing something else and you again hit that word you had learned a while ago and that you’ve been diligently reviewing in your SRS, and you know exactly what that word means because you learnt it and you know it and it’s yours, and not only do you know what it means, but you know its reading too. Or you see a joke or a reference that you wouldn’t have understood if you hadn’t stopped and learned something a while ago. Or you’re sitting down, reading Japanese emails and you understand every word because you used to sentence-mine emails. THAT’S when the payoff comes—you get to coast (at least in some areas) because you had been revving up your engine so hard; you get to slide down the hill because you worked so hard to push your mental sled up it in the first place.

Let me give you a concrete personal example. The first time I read Neon Genesis Evangelion, I didn’t get to enjoy it that much. It was fun, but I wasn’t all curled up on a designer beanbag engrossed in the adventures of Rei and Shinji; I’d be walking to class or sitting up at my desk, highlighter in hand, circling words that I needed to look up or phrases that I wanted to remember; it was more like plowing a field than surfing. But months later, the second time through, I actually read it like a book; I lived the dream — poring through volume upon volume of Japanese text, unencumbered, enjoying it for enjoyment’s sake, on a beanbag. The payoff had come but it took a while.

The payoff will come for you, too. Just keep on keeping on. Now, if you’ll excuse me, Stargate SG-1 needs me to watch it…and laugh at Teal’c’s comically deep Japanese voice.

  70 comments for “What It’s Like In The Beginning When You Don’t Know Jack. Or, How To Watch Japanese TV.

  1. JDog
    May 10, 2007 at 13:01

    Great post! Thanks! As a beginner I can really get a lot out of this. I was wondering how exactly to sentence mine in the beginning. I am into the “on-man-wouldn’t-it-be-nice-to-understand-the-words-to-just-one-song” phase that you were talking about before. I gave into the temptation a couple of times today in my car to flip it to the radio instead of the Japanese CD. Now I feel actually kinda bad. I need to get some more music so I’m not repeating so much.

    Anyway, while I’m here, I have yet another question. I am also a CS major in college and I was wondering how much more did you really have to learn (not to make it sound easy at all) to “do programming and computer stuff” in Japanese? The programming languages themselves are in English still, are they not? Just wondering because I was thinking briefly about it when I saw the help thing on the text-to-speech engine site/page. Although I didn’t understand the Japanese, I figured out it was telling me to use a tag, and the tags were self-explanatory English.

  2. khatzumoto
    May 10, 2007 at 13:11

    >I was wondering how much more did you really have to learn (not to make it sound easy at all) to “do programming and computer stuff” in Japanese?
    #Being a CS major like you, much of my life is already centered around computer stuff. So I didn’t have a separate side-project for “programming and computer stuff” in Japanese. Most of what I did in order to learn Japanese *was* programming and computer stuff…From using Windows in Japanese to reading Java, C and Networking books in Japanese to learn how to comment.

    >The programming languages themselves are in English still, are they not?
    #They are. I make a point of writing code comments in Japanese when possible, and when I don’t forget! I read books and other people’s programs written in Japanese in order to learn how to comment.

  3. Saru Sponge
    May 10, 2007 at 15:50

    A (somewhat) related question just popped into my head. Being so well versed in the art of the inter-tubes, would you be able to recommend a Japanese book/DVD store that takes Paypal? Because Amazon itself does not. I maxed out my credit card a year or so ago on a series of unsuccessful business ventures (I lie! I bought Playstation games!!!) and have opted to not get another one ever.

  4. khatzumoto
    May 10, 2007 at 15:54

    >would you be able to recommend a Japanese book/DVD store that takes Paypal?
    Hmmm…that’s a tough one…What about a debit card? All the cashless functionality of a credit card, minus the debt part. I used a debit card all through college to shop online and off.

  5. Saru Sponge
    May 10, 2007 at 16:05

    Hm. Honestly hadn’t thought of that. Might give it a look-into. All in all, I’m unimpressed that Amazon doesn’t take, like, the largest cash-thingie ever. It seems counter-intuitive.

  6. May 10, 2007 at 16:32

    great post!! I’m really just a beginner myself, but I love the feeling of suddenly understand things that I couldn’t a month ago. It’s going slowly for me, but it’s still all progress. I can’t wait til I can read a book, and understand dramas. Where do you get the dubbed TV shows from? Is the japanese dubbing on the DVD, or is it on Japan TV… or something else?

  7. khatzumoto
    May 10, 2007 at 16:42

    >Where do you get the dubbed TV shows from?

    Outside Japan, I bought them from Amazon Japan. They have movies really cheap sometimes. For example, I got Minority Report, A.I (the Spielberg/Osment one) and Independence Day for 500 to 900 yen apiece (you can reasonably aim to buy all your DVDs in the 900-1000 Yen range); needless to say, a really good price for new DVDs. By the way, since the Japanese title may be different in some cases, you can search by the English title.

    In Japan, I watched them on TV for while (I even got digital cable for a while), before getting tired of car insurance commercials every 10 minutes, so I switched to just renting DVDs of TV shows from the local video store. Rental is cheap (140 Yen/DVD/week, where I live) and very legal.

    Also, there’s a website called Gyao where you can watch a thing or two. I’m not sure whether Gyao works outside of Japan since, in my experience, some Japanese video content providers block visitors from outside Japan, perhaps due to copyright restrictions. But give it a go anyway. Gyao host about 15 full episodes of Stargate SG-1.

    Finally, let me confess that before coming to Japan, I did also use the *ahem* Internet to *cough* download TV shows. But it’s really quite dangerous–malware abounds–so, morally and computer-virusly, you’re better off buying or renting..says the hypocrite.

  8. Saru Sponge
    May 10, 2007 at 16:55

    Regarding *ahem* the, er, acquisition of shows over the interwebs, it is really tedious. Like, so much so as to not warrant the bother. You find yourself downloading four 400Mb files for an episode of something, you have to compile the files and they take up an extraordinary amount of space on your HD. Which is why I personally would love to just plonk down some cash and buy these shows. eBay, surprisingly, is no great help for dubbed TV.

  9. khatzumoto
    May 10, 2007 at 17:00

    >they take up an extraordinary amount of space on your HD
    True! I spent $ on extra hard drive space when I would have been better off just buying DVDs. At one point, I was even about to buy a further 1TB of HD space, when I realized “We’re spending all this dinero on hardware so we can save money on software? Does it really add up? Come, now…”. A utility-driven ethics, but ethical nonetheless(?)
    >eBay, surprisingly, is no great help for dubbed TV.
    eBay pretty much sucks for it, unfortunately.

  10. khatzumoto
    May 10, 2007 at 17:06

    You know, this whole dubbed DVD rental thing is something Netflix could jump onto…

  11. Saru Sponge
    May 10, 2007 at 17:09

    Well, I’m in Australia, so crazy Netflixery services are very limited here. It’s like a horrible red desert of hopelessness. But something similar could work. I mean, it’s obviously a concept that works.

  12. khatzumoto
    May 10, 2007 at 17:11

    Carlie…and everyone.
    I know what you mean about having multiple things running. In that vein, there is one thing I should add to my own post. When using authentic materials you might not “finish”. You might be working so hard on a book and get so tired, that you just need to do something else. And that’s fine, because you’ve learned something from it, that’s what counts. “You must finish this assignment” is a school idea, but this is not school. The only thing you *must* finish is Heisig’s book. Everything else is “until you get bored with it”.

  13. khatzumoto
    May 10, 2007 at 17:15

    Hey Saru Sponge…

    Sounds like something these Inter-Tubes could handle really well. Like Larry Elison once said, there’s really something quite barbaric about carting plastic discs around the world when you don’t need to…

  14. Saru Sponge
    May 10, 2007 at 17:26

    Well, in theory, yes. But I have gotten to the point, as had you, where getting more HD space or paying for higher bandwidth is just no longer an option. As an aside I have now looked into getting a debit card, so hopefully I’ll be able to watch some Babylon 5 or Boston Legal or even, perhaps, Seinfeld in Japanese. Soon.

  15. khatzumoto
    May 10, 2007 at 19:49

    Oh, and another thing–try out Disney Classics like “Bambi” in Japanese. They’re REALLY easy to understand; they are, after all, intended for young children. You don’t need that high a level of Japanese at all, I don’t think–no “光子魚雷” (photon torpedoes). You’ll still learn a lot, and enjoy understanding a lot. Disney Classics use plain language with few hidden meanings or double entendres in dialogue. Also, the plot structure is simple and predictable (Japanese movies? The plot could go anywhere–usually it’s a good thing, but sometimes you get a “Casshern”). Anyway, I get tired of deer and bunny rabbits after a while (I need to see guns and machines), but “Bambi” and things like it were valuable and useful at the time.

  16. May 11, 2007 at 00:26

    I don’t like Amazon much only because they have really high shipping fees to Australia (I’m from Australia too Sponge!!!) i try and buy things in bulk from there because that way the shipping isn’t so bad. I’ve been wanting to buy Northern Lights (The Golden Compass) – a book from there, but I never thought of dvds as well (because sometimes I’m slow).

    Thanks for having a look at my blog Khatzumoto. I also like the idea of not finishing. lol, I start a lot of things I never finish. One of my faults. I hope I finish Heisig though. I want to take my time so I don’t burn out but I don’t want to take it too easy so that it takes years. Only up to about 150 kanji, but I’m also learning kanji from words I know already so I’d say I know roughly about 300 all together. Only around 85% to go… 😛

  17. Saru Sponge
    May 11, 2007 at 07:56

    Northern Lights is a cool book. I only recently got around to finishing the series.

    I am happy with Khatzumoto’s advice, myself. I have been studying Heisig’s book for a month so far and I’m almost up to 450 kanji. I wouldn’t have gone this far without such a great resource. Hehe.

  18. May 11, 2007 at 08:51

    I read the book ages ago, but there is a movie about it comming out soon which reminded me of it. ANd then I thought I would be an interesting book to read side by side with it’s Japanese translation, that I’d like to try.

    Well done Sponge on the 450! My “problem” is I can’t just concentrate on studying Kanji. I have to do other things as well, which is why sometimes I don’t learn any new kanji for a week or two while I’m drilling myself with vocab or grammar or something else.

  19. Saru Sponge
    May 11, 2007 at 09:33

    Yes, I had heard about the movie. I am skeptical, but it could be interesting.

    As to an inability to concentrate on the kani, it has been my problem in the past, too. But I’ve just gotten to the point where I think to myself ‘At what cost am I NOT studying these things?’ If I don’t keep up with it, if I don’t immerse myself in the culture, if I’m not willing to make some sacrifices, I’m just kidding myself. I’m impressed with khatzumoto’s results and I think I can do what he has done. Sure, I’m doing it slowly and sometimes I have to dwell on a set of kanji, but ultimately khatzu’s advice has me feeling more confident than ever that fluency is an achievable goal.

  20. May 11, 2007 at 15:49

    I don’t have high hopes for the movie, but I was thinking it is a book I loved, it’s a “childrens” book so I’m hoping for furigana and it would be fun to read side by side with the original. And I can’t stand Harry Potter, so it would be a good alternative.

    Ah, I have the same thoughts on keeping up on the studying. I’m pretty proud of myself on how far I’ve come. And I like suddenly understanding something, it’s a great feeling.

  21. Saru Sponge
    May 11, 2007 at 16:39

    Haha, yes. I love the feeling of looking at a sentence and thinking… I can write that. That’s awesometacular. As for Harry Potter, I enjoy the series as much as an adult can, I suppose. It’s interesting, but not too deep. The movies are quite good and summarise the plots well.

  22. ModishMinuet
    September 26, 2007 at 20:09

    I was just wondering: are we supposed to be doing this even as we learn kanji? Maybe I should have put this under the “emmersion” section, but I am getting a little confused. I know we should be putting ourselves in Japan as much as possible, but I thought, for some reason, that we were supposed to learn the kanji before learning how to pronounce everything, and doing that before reading? Is that not right? Pretty much, my question is this: What is the order for everything we are supposed to do, or are we supposed to do it all at once??

  23. khatzumoto
    September 26, 2007 at 20:15

    Hey Modish

    >I was just wondering: are we supposed to be doing this even as we learn kanji?

    >we were supposed to learn the kanji before learning how to pronounce everything

    >and doing that before reading?
    Learn kanji pronunciations (readings) as you read.

    >What is the order for everything we are supposed to do, or are we supposed to do it all at once??
    The order is:
    0. Environment (all Japanese, all the time)
    1. Kanji (environment continues)
    2. Kana (environment continues)
    3. Sentences + Kanji Readings (environment continues)

  24. ModishMinuet
    September 28, 2007 at 09:26

    Yay! Thanks. *sigh* I think that my brain can (finally) process that order…One more question though: I saw on one page a…what, a URL or something that you type in so that when you go to Japanese websites, you can…translate? see how it is pronounced? Something of that nature, I don’t quite remember exactly. At any rate, I was just wondering, what are some URLs that do that sort of thing?

  25. khatzumoto
    September 28, 2007 at 09:35
  26. Sean
    May 1, 2008 at 01:11


    Thanks for the great site! It has given me a lot to think about (regarding the bad methods I have been using to try to learn the language). With respect to this For those of us who are having a hard time finding japanese A/V material:

    1) I was under the impression that DVDs purchased from Japan would have a different ‘DVD code’ and thus would not work in an american DVD player. How can we get american movies (or japanese movies for that matter) in the Japanese language (that will work in an american DVD player)?

    2) Can you suggest a place to get japanese television online (before we are literate enough to find it ourselves)


  27. vgambit
    September 5, 2008 at 17:45 is almost completely impossible for me to use. If I want to order one book, I have to pay 3000 yen ($28) in shipping. It’s the same if I want to order one dvd.

    Forget that.

  28. Susan
    October 1, 2008 at 12:16

    Movies with Japanese audio can be ordered from which is in Hong Kong. I buy Mandarin language movies from them. Their movies are not as economical as I’d like, but the benefit far outweights the cost. One of their competitors is so check them out too. To play another region DVD you can get a region free dvd player or an external DVD drive for your PC. The DVD drive would be dedicated for your language work (OIOW, dedicated to dvds from a different region). Also for freebies, check out Youtube. I found much of the Mandarin language CCTV series for Monkey there.

  29. Squintox
    October 11, 2008 at 01:23

    I’m not sure if this is the right place but:

    When you start out, and are reviewing your sentences. If you see a word and don’t know the exact English meaning, but get the basic “gist” of the word, do I grade it wrong, difficult, or just grade it as if I knew the English equivalent?

  30. Jeff
    April 15, 2009 at 05:38

    Something I still haven’t managed to grasp is after I’m done with all the Kanji how am I suppose to learn how to pronounce it without using any kind of english reading aid?

  31. shdwknight
    August 25, 2009 at 12:56

    I was reading this and I was wondering how you look up the word you heard in an undubbed anime or a movie if you don’t know how to spell. I have trouble doing that so I usually turn to music lyrics or I look up a word that pops into my head. You mentioned in one of your posts that the way something is written sounds different when said. An example you gave was desu, when said it sounds like dess. What are your suggestions?

  32. Ken
    September 27, 2009 at 00:03

    Unfortunately, Gyao won’t play video if you’re outside of Japan. It sends you to:

    My Japanese isn’t that good yet, but I know enough kanji (日本国) to get the idea. 🙁

  33. chad
    December 13, 2009 at 17:27

    just wanted to say that in one of the other posts i was reading, khatz recommended a website that, while requiring a login to access, will allow you to watch a lot of japanese videos no prob:

  34. Arman
    January 14, 2011 at 13:37

    Hi I have been reading on this site for a short while, but it has been helping quite a bit compared to other sites. I was wondering what you mean by looking up the definition to the words, as in do you mean, look it up in English, or look it up in Japanese? I am confused on how looking it up in Japanese would work since I am really new to this whole thing. So far I am just working on the kana. But thanks in advance!

    • Tito
      January 17, 2011 at 10:01

      Under this: So, should I translate sentences into English?

      “…Either use someone else’s translation (i.e. a bilingual dictionary) or simply understand it without a translation (monolingual dictionary)…”

      I suggest learning Kanji first, but I learned Kana first having started Japanese in High School. So you’re okay.

      Check the rest out here:

      • Arman
        January 18, 2011 at 04:09

        Thanks for spending the time to respond! I have a question about learning the kanji since I am almost there, as I just need to learn katakana, how exactly do you learn it? The book he recommended was Remembering the Kanji but that doesn’t give you how to pronounce the kanji only what it means in English. Although I am guessing that isn’t how you learned it but I am just curious. Also do you know a good place to get a bilingual dictionary perhaps online?

        • pecheberry
          January 18, 2011 at 11:56

          try the ‘master katakana’ list on

        • Arman
          January 18, 2011 at 16:10

          Sorry about that I found out that it does show you how to pronounce it with hiragana and possibly katakana in volume 3. But thanks for your help before.

        • あんど
          January 20, 2011 at 04:20

          Hey, Arman. I actually did learn the kanji through Remembering the Kanji. You’re right in that it doesn’t teach you pronunciations. However, it does teach you how to write each of them yourself (and therefore be able to easily recognize them), which is an invaluable skill. I personally think that learning the readings while trying to learn the writings is too much; you’re effectively trying to learn too much at one time, y’know? It’s too failure- and frustration-prone.
          Before picking up RtK1, I actually did try to learn the kanji and their readings at the same time. I went through all of the JLPT4 kanji this way. I drilled those things so much my hand cramped. And yet, once I started to jump into real Japanese text… all of that drilling never helped me. I mean, sure, I have the readings in my head, but what am I supposed to do with that knowledge? I still have to look up the individual word to know if I’m even using the correct reading, so it’s not like I’ve saved any time or effort. In fact, I’ve just expended a lot more.
          Now I can reliably read a lot of kanji from the JLPT3, 2, and 1 (and heck, even from outside those lists), purely because when I come across a word I don’t know I just look it up in a dictionary. You get the reading for that word and the definition, you throw it into your SRS. Boom. And I’ve noticed that after a while your ability to predict readings goes up, but only if you spend enough time in real Japanese text.

          Now, if you absolutely want to learn the readings out of context, Remembering the Kanji volume 2 will have that for you. Volumes 1 and 3 are just meanings and writing.

          • Arman
            January 21, 2011 at 13:05

            Thanks for the information. So are you saying there is no point right now in remembering the pronunciations? If so is there a point in time when I should look up the pronunciations? Obviously I should one day learn how to pronounce them just curious when cause I could see that it is already tough enough with the way to write them and their meaning. Also there seems to be as far as I can tell a lot of kanji pronounced the same in a lot of cases so will that make it more difficult to learn? Thanks again.

  35. Danny
    May 25, 2011 at 16:48

    How are u supposed to look up words when u cant spell them????

    • Areckx
      May 26, 2011 at 12:56

      you learn how to lookup kanji. I use the Kodansha method, (SKIP) and it helps me lookup kanji.

      Also, learn all of your hiragana and katakana. Read every day and you’ll forget that you ever got two confused. Keep reading and it’ll feel like reading English letters.

      Basically, if you hear a word, it may be several words, so work on listening and lookup all the possible alternatives. A lot of words use the same pronunciation but have completely different meanings, it’s up to you and your common sense to figure out which one is the correct word.

      keyhole TV, good for radio and tv…I’ve been using it every day now for the past few weeks. When I first started seriously studying (as in not just watching anime with english subtitles and thinking I’m studying…) I made a habit of filling out an ENTIRE page in whatever I was learning. I started with the hiragana, did a page of あああああああああああああああああああああああああああああああああああああああああああああああああああああああああああああああああああああああああああああああああああああああああ

      that was when I was 15(23 now)

      and so on. I did this with kanji until my brain exploded, and now I am kind of taking a break from that… I’m paying more attention these days to listening comprehension and kanji recognition. I am finding if I just write out the radicals on my hand or in the air, I can pretty much avoid the page-full-of-kanji method, and I’m starting to recognize a lot more kanji than I used to. Not to the point where I can read a book without furigana though… I’m still working on reading after 9 years of total JP study.

      I’ve been spending the past 2 years doing the bulk of my study. I’ve been immersed in Japanese since I was 13 though, so I’m a bit more used to it, but I learned the most this past year.

      All of 2010 I was homeless and living in homeless shelters, so I started paying serious attention to my Japanese study in order to focus my mind and avoid thoughts of suicide and the like. It really kept me going. It got annoying in the shelter when people would bug me while I was reading and start talking really loudly about “ALEX CAN READ CHINESE~!!!!!!!! HOW SMART! DUHR DUH DUHR!!!!” but I learned to ignore them and just continue reading/studying.

      In 2010 I went from struggling to finish a single volume of manga, to having a large variety of manga at my leisure. It still takes more energy than reading English, but it’s getting a lot easier.

      The more you do something, the better you get at it. The easier it becomes, the more you’ll want to add more. The more you add, the more you’ll end up doing it, and so on infinitum.

  36. Connor
    June 29, 2011 at 14:50

    So I’ve been “studying” Japanese now for 10 years (I’m 18 now). However, it was more of a fourth-grade hobby to keep myself busy than a passion. Lately, my interest in Japanese language and culture has picked up tremendously, and I have decided to (hopefully) work in Japan. So, in essence, I’ve been hardcore studying for the past six months. Now my point…

    That being said, I had a VERY basic knowledge of Japanese grammar and vocabulary before I started doing exercises on a program that teaches completely in L2. Afterwards I had a fairly larger vocabulary and around 100 kanji with common readings, but grammar was still lacking. Almost one month ago, I found AJATT, which I was EXTREMELY excited about trying, so I jumped into RTK, and I’m at 525 kanji to this date. To cut to the chase, I know the RTK will help tremendously in the long run, but I feel as if my actual “learning” has stagnated. Is jumping into sentences a bad thing at this point if I maintain the RTK? I love the progress I’ve made with kanji meanings, but the immersion environment and RTK alone are just trapping my frustrated soul in a rut. I need sentences!!!

    BUT, if sentences should be put off until I’ve finished RTK, then where is a good place to start when I do? Please don’t overestimate my knowledge of Japanese 😛 (10 years = more time spent going crazy buying textbooks than actually studying). I know I’ve drawn this out a lot, and I apologize. Any advice, pointers, criticism, or success stories are much appreciated.

    • Chagami
      June 29, 2011 at 23:56

      On this site, I’ve seen Khatz mention multiple times to wait until you’re done the kanji before starting sentences. I’d love to know exactly why this is too!

      Now, I’m closing in on kanji #1200 and a week ago, something came to me. There are kanji out there (like 昨、行、窓) that are really stuck in my mind. I thought, “Well, that’s because I’ve seen them a lot” but the thing is, I’ve seen other kanji as many times, but my retention isn’t nearly as good.

      Why are these kanji so much more familiar? Well, it came to me that I had found them useful from time to time. And, kanji aren’t really useful on their own, but they are in sentences.

      So, I bought Khatz’ My First Sentence Pack and started putting sentences into my SRS that contain kanji I already know.

      I would think that 525 is a little early, but once you get to 1000, I’d bet it wouldn’t be a bad idea to start with sentences.

      Anyway, you may want to take my advice with a grain of salt. After all, I’ve only started sentences as a side project (if that! It’s more like Polyfilla than anything) about a week ago, so this advice should be considered as highly experimental.

      • Connor
        June 30, 2011 at 13:54

        Actually, I’ve noticed exactly the same thing. I usually find myself neglecting the stories for the kanji that I’ve actually seen used in sentences… although, according to Heisig, that’s a bad habit to get into, so I try to force myself to go through the motions anyway. Also, I was actually considering purchasing the My First Sentence Pack as well, and I’m glad you brought that up. I figured I might as well start from the bare fundamentals instead of jumping right into stripping newspapers of their headlines. I think Khatz says to wait because of the order in which Heisig presents the kanji–disregarding both complexity and frequency of appearance–meaning there are probably very common kanji presented in the latter part of the book simply because their radicals are learned later. I was hoping it would be fine, though, to do sentences as long as the ones with unknown kanji are omitted. Considering this, I just might start sentences once I get a few more kanji under my belt. And if it gets too messy, I can always pull my eager-cap off until I get the kanji out of the way. And thank you so much for the input! It’s great to get a second perspective, and it’s even better to be reassured that I’m not the only one trying to learn Japanese out there. Good luck in your studies. I hope your (and later, my) sentence experiment works out for the better!

  37. Suisei
    December 28, 2011 at 10:53

    Um, should you also say words to yourself when you hear them and practice them? Also, people say to work on vocabulary after Kanji. I haven’t even gotten out of Kana yet…so I guess I should wait then? o.o

    • ahndoruuu
      December 28, 2011 at 20:39

      If you’re following Khatz’ advice strictly, you wouldn’t even be doing kana yet.  It’s immersion -> kanji -> kana -> sentences.
      There’s no specific vocabulary learning either.  It’s just all done through sentences.  Or MCDs as is popular nowadays. 

      Of course, you’re free to deviate and are encouraged to do so if you feel like it.  Learning isolated “vocabulary” words has its caveats that make it a generally unfruitful practice for a lot of people, however.  But if you feel like you’ll benefit, try it out 🙂

      • Suisei
        December 29, 2011 at 06:09

        Oh! xD I see. I’ll try that out then! ^^
        But, do you know why Khatz recommends to do Kanji first? :O Just curious since people hae told me to do Kana first. ^^;

        • ahndoruuu
          December 29, 2011 at 10:19

          He’s never been too direct about that, but from what I gather the reason is threefold:
          1. You’re not really going to need kana until you start learning sentences.
          2. It’s easier to pick kana up after you have a lot of experience with the sounds of the language. 
          3. The kanji is a much longer mini-project, and it’s always good to start first with the thing that will take the longest.  Kana can be learned in an afternoon if you were inclined to do so; kanji will take months even for the most dedicated of us.

          However, doing kana first can be a motivation booster.  I learned kana before ever discovering AJATT so yeah…one interesting thing you can do with only kana though is…you can play Pokemon! 😀  Most of the GBA and DS Pokemon games are entirely in kana.  Sure, you won’t understand anything, but you can just read it in your head, which can be fun.  At the very least, you’ll learn all the Japanese Pokemon names and how to say Attack and Item and Run and stuff.

          • Suisei
            December 29, 2011 at 11:13

            Ah, I see 😀 Thanks for explaining that. ^^ 
            I’m pretty nervous right now because I just got the RTK1 book that Khatz has recommended but I have know idea what Heisig is explaining really in his descriptions. :/ So I’m kind of stuck.

        • Caren
          December 29, 2011 at 12:34

          To be precise, he says:
          Phase 3: Remembering the Kana
           Learn the 46 hiragana and katakana respectively using Heisig’s Remembering the Kana. Why do this after kanji? No particular reason…you could do the kana first if you wanted, even though you won’t be using them much”

          from: Overview

          So it’s not so much that he doesn’t recommend learning kana first, he just doesn’t think it’ll be that useful if you’ll be spending time learning kanji. However, it’s not like it’ll hurt if you learn kana first. What matters is that you learn the kanji before doing sentences.

    • December 29, 2011 at 00:47

      >Also, people say to work on vocabulary after Kanji.

      In case you were confused, vocabulary should be learned at all parts of your Japanese journey (following Khatz’ system, that is.) Through having Japanese audio on all the time, you’ll pick up on words and phrases as effortlessly as picking fruit off of trees. When they say you should learn vocabulary after kanji, I think they’re referring to *written* vocabulary. I could be wrong though; that’s just my two yen.
      Our wise friend ahndoruuu is exactly right on all points, however, I did deviate from Khatz’ Master Plan(TM). I decided to learn the kana first, and chose to do some singular word learning before really getting into sentences. The reason I did that was because I needed some extra time easing myself in. I wanted to see Japanese with my eyes, so I decided to learn the kana before finishing the kanji. After finishing the kanji, I started sentences, but I was sinking. I figured I needed a leg up, so I decided to work on some vocabulary before launching into sentences, as well as when I got going.
      In my opinion, my acts of deviance have lead me down an easier path to fluency, but also a longer one. That’s okay though; I’m a slow learner, so I need a slower pace anyway.

      • Caren
        December 29, 2011 at 12:13

        Well Khatz has mentioned several times that people should adapt his method to make a better fit. Everyone has different needs. No one is supposed to do his way exactly the way he did it; changes are expected.

        I too already knew kana well before discovering AJATT (and some 150 kanji, as well as a bunch of grammar and vocab from my textbook days). I did adapt Khatz’s method. I learned the kanji, not through Heisig as I dislike his chosen interpretations, but I use a kanji game called slime forest to achieve the same result. In the meantime, I also gathered sentences (without really SRS-ing much, really just gathering for later) from japanese students’ workbooks of various levels.

        Sometimes I even go back to the textbooks. I find it FUN to read them every now and then- I’m one of those freaks – and Khatz always says that having fun is the most important aspect of learning a language.

  38. Routine
    December 29, 2011 at 00:31

    I might sound stupid, but what does “MCD” stand for?

  39. Decora
    December 29, 2011 at 11:47

    I have a question, how do you look up a word anyways? Can’t you mishear it and misspell  it in romaji or whatever ? :/

    • Caren
      December 30, 2011 at 09:07

      The idea is that when you’re watching/listening, you hear a word you recognize. By recognize, it just means you can tell it apart, not that you actually not what it means. So if you’re watching and you hear something that sounds like HOHO, and not just gibberish, then that’s a word you can attempt to look up. You can use dictionaries to take guesses.

      So it might be hoho, hohou, houho, houhou, and possibly hooho and hohoo (having two o’s is actually pretty rare in japanese. They usually use ‘ou’ to make a deep O sound). The better your listening skills, the more easily you can tell if it’s a short o (like in hoho) or a long o (like in houhou).

      So anyway, after you’ve written down all your guesses for that word you recognize – which will usually be just one or two guesses, you just go on an online dictinary and put in all your guesses. I recommend Jisho or WWWJDIC (just google for them). Look at all the answers and pick the one that fits with the context you saw it in. If multiple of them fit, see if one says “common” and the others don’t. Go with common.

      Then take that word you chose and make a card for it. You can use sentences from jisho and WWJDIC, just be sure to look them over to make sure they seem accurate, or from other places. Then you go on a japanese online dictionary (like sanseido) to get definitions for all the words in that sentence that you don’t know. Try to use simple sentences so you only have 1 or 2 definitions in a card. 

       That’s all there is to it: recognize a word; write down all the possible romaji/kana writings for it; use an english dictionary to look up your gueses; choose the best guess; make a card with japanese sentences and japanese dictionary definitions; repeat until you are fluent.

      I recommend Azumanga Daioh as a good starting anime. It’s not the most interesting anime, but it’s funny at times and the vocabulary’s pretty easy. That or the younger-audience Ghibli movies (Ponyo, Spirited Away, Kiki’s delivery Service, Karigurashi no Arrietty). Turn off subs, or get one with foreign subs, you’ll recognize more because you’ll listen for more. I recognized a lot more words (that I knew and didn’t knew) when I watched Arrietty with arabic subtitles than when I watched it with English subs. I can’t wait for it to be released here so I can watch it with no subs at all. When you get tired, feel free to use song lyrics sometimes too as at least then the words are found for you.

      • Decora
        December 30, 2011 at 09:52

        Oh wow! Thank you so much for all that information! 😀 I really appreciate it! I was really wondering what dictionaries would be good to use too. Thank you! :3
        I do have trouble distinguishing how long the sound is though. :/

        • Caren
          December 30, 2011 at 10:08

          For sounds, only practice will tell. That’s why I chose HOHO as the example – to remind you to consider long sounds. However, most of the time that won’t be a problem. The only time long sounds are annoying is if you don’t realize it’s a katakana word, since katakana uses ‘ – ‘ for long sounds. But that’s also not that common.

          Actually, on the sidebar of AJATT (down at the bottom), there is a section called Web Dictionaries. jisho isn’t on there because it’s english-japanese (and back) only, no japanese-japanese and Khatz recommends only using monolingual. However, I find that using a bilingual dictionary is easier when trying to figure out which word you heard. The english ones also accept romaji, which is easier to use when guessing because then you don’t have to worry is a ji is a じ or a ぢ, a zu is a ず or づ. Romaji dictionaries account for that. Even though I know kanji and mastered the kana a while ago, I often use romaji for lookups because of the easiness of it.

          I do recommend using an actual monolingual dictionary (such as the ones on the sidebar) for the actual SRS cards though… 

          • Decora
            December 30, 2011 at 10:12

            Oh..I still can’t read japanese so not sure if a monolingual dictionary would be good then. owo;

            • Caren
              December 30, 2011 at 10:37

              So don’t use monolingual for now. You can edit/delete your cards as you learn. Just make sure you’re learning Kanji right now (whether through RTK or some other method.)

              • Suisei
                January 10, 2012 at 02:54

                Sorry, for messanging your post again about somehting different but since I don’t have AJATT Plus  soI can’t really talk on forums and ask questions. Can I ask you a question about the Lazy Kanji Khatz is talking about? I haven’t started Kanji since I’m a bit stuck on what he’s talking about it. Sorry for bothering you if I am. :/

                • Caren
                  January 10, 2012 at 03:45

                  To be honest, I’m not sure. I don’t do my kanji study using cards. I use a video game called Slime Forest for learning meanings, and then I use a mixture of and japanese workbooks (for japanese children) for learning readings. 

                  I think – but I’m not completely sure – that the lazy cards means having the question be the kanji and underneath it on the same side the RTK story (or one you made up) with the answer blanked out, and then the answer side of the card has the meaning.

                  You don’t need to worry about making the lazy deck anyway! Just go to Anki (I’m guessing you have anki), go to File>Download>Shared Deck, search for “lazy” and download the pre-made deck called Lazy Kanji Mod V2. Someone already went through the trouble of making the deck, so why not use it?

                  • Suisei
                    January 10, 2012 at 04:03

                    Oh! I’ve used slime forest before. 🙂
                    I haven’t played it in a long time.
                    And I just downloaded the Lazy Kanji Mod V2 but get this . On the front of the card I get that for ever not sure how that helps at all..unless it’s glitched or something. O.o; So not sure if that’s normal or not and not sure how that helps..unless you have to write it out maybe but that doesn’t help with remembering the keyword for it..

                    • Caren
                      January 10, 2012 at 04:15

                      So I downloaded the deck myself to see what is going on.

                      The kanji has the same font color as the background. The red (which are numbers right now) or the picture are hints. Ideally, you want to write the kanji just by looking at the hints. For example, if you look at that screenshot, you’ll see tiny red 4, because it’s the kanji for 4. For mouth, you’ll see an image of a mouth. Later on, the hints turn into RTK-style sentences.

                      So yes, it’s normal. Keep doing reps and you’ll see what I mean.

                      And yes, you’re supposed to write it out when you test yourself. 

                    • Suisei
                      January 10, 2012 at 04:21

                      But for strokes, should I open the RTK book to help with remembering strokes or something?

                    • Caren
                      January 10, 2012 at 04:28

                      Hmm. Email me (squimpleton at gmail dot com) next time. Poor comment section is getting shrunk.

                      Anyway, the answer section has 3 links. The “Denji Jisho” link will go to, which has stroke order pictures for each kanji. OR, you can download the Kanji stroke order font  and then go to Deck properties> Basic> Edit>Forward>Card Layout>Fields>Kanji>Font and choose your font.

                      You can download the kanji font here first link. Unzip it and read the directions. I just had to click on the font file and it did it automatically, but I don’t know if it does that on every OS so make sure to read the about/help files if clicking on it doesn’t install it. 

  40. Insiya
    November 8, 2012 at 09:48

    I have a really good idea. Khatzumoto keeps saying to use the SRS when we can, but when we can’t… make a hexaflexagon! Write the most recent kanji you’ve learned on the traingles, put it together, and flex! Don’t just stop after one, make two! Three! A hundred seven! It’s perfect for when you don’t have a computer because it’s an SRS in it’s own way. I don’t even care about the kanji when using them. I just like flexing them, but I still learn!!! IT’S GENIUS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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