Learning Japanese Entry #5 Vocab Lists, Mini Victories and Introducing Sentence Banks

Mt Fuji


Here’s entry number 5! As always I will discuss what I believe was and was not useful, after the main entry. This entry was still very early on in the process for me and I have learnt a lot since then. If you have anyway questions feel free to comment at the end of the post 🙂

Click here for the previous entry.

Diary Entry

“17th of August 2015:

Discovered the Wikipedia list of gairaigo (外来語) and wasei-eigo (和製英語) terms which are foreign words from mainly English and European origin that are used within the Japanese language. This list consists of about 1000 words of vocabulary and I have begun to gradually create an Anki deck for them. I think these could be a great vocabulary source seems the words will be very easy to memorize. 

I’ve also started making use of a mini-notepad to jot down words I pick up from listening while I am away from home. I jot these down and add them to a new deck ready to find a sentence for them later.

I have also completed the Kanji Radical deck which I had but didn’t touch much.

I have noticed that the constant intake of the Japanese language is helping dramatically. Studying new vocabulary and then picking it up later on in songs, TV and films is quite a remarkable memorization tool, especially if I am listening to something over and over again such as music. TV dramas and films have helped a lot too, I find myself understanding a lot of what is being said during day-to-day conversation, anything about the plot is often beyond me as I have yet to learn the vocabulary needed.

I’m curious about a program called “learn to understand your favourite TV program in 30 days” but it seems like a lot of effort to get it working. The idea being that you generate flashcards in anki with clips from your favourite show with Japanese and (probably incorrect) English subtitles. I see this as a clever idea but I do think a lot of English translations are off or incorrect slightly at times and am unsure as to whether it would be a useful method for me.

I have begun to get sentences from various sources in preparation for the J-E to J-J learning switch over.
Anki Stats: ~300 Sentences learnt, ~600 Kanji learnt, all Kanji Radicals learnt.”

Vocab Lists vs Sentences

Why not to use the mentioned lists (Japanese Learners)

So the first thing I mention is the use of gairaigo (外来語) and wasei-eigo (和製英語) vocab lists. Just to clarify, both of these are essentially just English words with a “Japanese” spin on them. So they should be really easy to learn. Now, I will be honest here, I did not stick to using these lists for very long. They are too easy and are too much effort to make flashcards for them. You are better of just getting used to hearing and seeing them in context. These are the first words you will begin to hear anyway, if you already know English. They will be so easy to learn you wont need to Anki them, trust me. *There are obscure ones you may want to memorize but honestly it’s not worth your time.

Why not to use Vocab Lists in General

Vocab lists are in general, very boring resources. You are forced to go through each word while learning the meaning outside of context and usually with nothing more than just a direct translation. This is not only super inefficient (no context = extremely hard to learn) it is so boring it is enough to drive one insane. Some people feel the same about sentences, however, I absolutely love them and I actually enjoy doing sentence flashcards on Anki. They are more interesting, contain more context (easier to learn) and are sentences I actually want to be able to use. Random sentences taken from your L2 environment over vocab list drills any day.

Using Vocab Lists to your Advantage – In case you’re stubborn 😉

This is just a suggestion in case you are adamant that you must use vocab lists. 

Personally I have a habit of adding words that I don’t know in to a separate deck in Anki ready for me to find a sentence later (only if I don’t have a decent sentence). Now, you could do this with vocab lists, use it to get the really common words in the language, put them in a deck, then find sentences for them later. To do this you would probably want to have a large supply of sentences at your disposal, which I like to call a Sentence Bank (I will discuss this in a future blog). If you use a program to format/bulk import the words in to Anki, then you could very easily do this.


  • Quickly learn the most common words in a certain topic
  • Get contextual information to aid memorization
  • You are literally memorizing with Anki so you won’t forget the words
  • Incredibly efficient if you are starting out and you have a list of the most common words (80/20 principle)


  • Incredibly boring
  • May be limited to sentences that you have no interest in (making them harder to work with)
  • You are going to have to go out and search for sentences for each word (at the beginning this can be very hard)

This is the only way you would catch me EVER using a vocab list. I attempted it once with the most common 50 words from anime but it was so boring I stopped very quickly (I still have this list if anyone would like me to post it). I would just advise getting sentences that you like from native material, especially at the early stages.

Saving Words for Later

As I just discussed in the previous part, this jotting down words has become a very popular habit of mine. In the early stages it was words that stood out to me as “Oh, I think I have seen this before, but I still don’t know its meaning.” These words I would jot down in a little pad or type straight into Anki mobile. Later I would search for a sentence to add to my sentence deck. I would often search for example sentences in a J-J dictionary at first but later I discovered a great method of getting lots of incredibly useful and contextual sentences that I could pick from.

This is what I call a Sentence Bank and it gave me huge access to lots of sentences that I had seen through all the TV shows I had watched in Japanese. I will teach you guys how this works and how to make one in a future post (it’s a long process, but worth it). If you have a large supply of sentences that you can pick from then I highly suggest using this. If not, try to add the original sentence that the word came from. This will provide you with at least one sentence and if you don’t like it you can always delete it until you see a better one come up.

If you are interested check out subs2srs to get you started.

Kanji Radical Deck

To sum up, this deck is pretty useless. I wouldn’t bother. The first few parts do give a good idea as to how stroke order is combined to make each character but other than that the rest of the kanji in here are obscure or just plain Chinese. Just go straight for Heisig RTK 1.

Links for both:

Kanji Radical Deck: https://ankiweb.net/shared/info/1044119361

Heisigs RTK 1-3 w/ Community Stories: https://ankiweb.net/shared/info/2077872612

You can also get my updated Kanji deck here – Minimalist’s RTK 1+3 Kanji

Mini Victories – Immersion

As you can see from the post, the immersion was going really well. I quickly began to notice new words once I learnt them in Anki and was beginning to understand more and more. I can’t remember exactly when it was but I can remember watching TV shows at the beginning, not understanding most of it, then getting one of the jokes out of no where and breaking into a fit of laughter. It felt great. I also remember understanding my first full scene from an Anime called Sword Art Online (Amazon), here is the scene in case you are interested.

These small little victory moments felt great and allowed me to push through what was quite a stressful beginning. I soon realized that this is quite fun and I can just sit back and enjoy the ride. I just have to keep doing Anki for 60 minutes a day then I will understand more, so I did and it worked. I understood more and more. It was quite an amazing experience.

Learn to understand your favourite TV program in 30 days

I have mentioned the concept of Sentence Banks in this entry a couple of times and honestly if it was not for this program I don’t think I would have come up with the idea. I wanted to add a link to the website so that you guys could follow-up on it and check it out but unfortunately the site doesn’t appear to be live anymore. There is still a video on YouTube and some reddit posts/forums discussing the topic so take a look and you might gleam some advice from them. The basic idea, however, is to essentially study your favourite TV shows in your target language in Anki. It is quite an amazing idea and it contributed to a lot of my success.

This is something I will discuss in a future post in more detail, as again, it’s a really big topic.


That pretty much ties up this entry. I hope you found it useful and I hope it gave an insight as to what it was like for me after a few months of immersion. I would also love to hear your opinions on the vocab list argument. Definitely check out the idea of gathering thousands of sentences in to a Sentence Bank, it can be quite a powerful tool, especially if you are obsessed with Anki like I am :p


Click here for more information on learning Japanese



By Matthew Hawkins

Here are some of my favorite tools and sites for learning Japanese

Thank you for reading this blog post, which I hope you found useful for learning Japanese. Here are some of the most useful websites that I’ve found for finding Japanese content to use for immersion as well as some really useful learning tools to help you through your Japanese studies. Some of these are affiliate links which just means that if you decide to use these sites by clicking the following links, then I will earn a commission. But honestly speaking, these are the sites that I use and recommend language learners, even my friends, to use anyway.

Anki Tools: To get started, I really like Migaku for Anki. By itself, Anki is already a super useful tool for language learners but Migaku allows for integration with websites like YouTube and Netflix, allowing it’s users to create flashcards from the shows and videos that they are watching, as they are watching them. If you use my link you can get an extra month for free.

Speaking Practice: For this I absolutely love iTalki. There are thousands of Japanese teachers on the platform that are available at all times of the day to have conversations with you, in Japanese. Some teachers take a more traditional approach while others are just there to chat, these are the ones I would recommend if you are looking to improve your conversational Japanese. Lessons start from just $5 and there’s no long term commitment, I highly recommend them.

Immersion: I’ve used a lot of different earphones / headphones over the years but by far the one that has come out on top is the NENRENT S570. This is a singular in-ear earphone that matches your skin tone to keep it discrete, meaning you can listen to the language you are learning while at work, or school. For a full list of tools and gadgets I recommend for maximizing your immersion time, check out this blog post.

5 Replies to “Learning Japanese Entry #5 Vocab Lists, Mini Victories and Introducing Sentence Banks”

  1. Hi Matt. Your success is very encouraging. I have been reading alot on the input method from several resources. Currently I am studying modern standard arabic and really want to achieve fluency through the input method. I know alot of the grammar and I can apply that grammar while reading etc. I can’t find sentence decks for arabic but I did come accross Glossikas program. Do you think taking the 3000+ sentences and audio and putting them into anki will do the trick?

    1. I’ve never heard of the program myself and I tend to stay away from pre-made decks but if you are lacking sources of reading then go for it (having audio is a plus so that’s nice). Try to actually do the sentence mining process because that’s where you really learn the good stuff 😀 If you find TV shows and their subtitles then you can make some pretty large sentence decks which you can mine from pretty quickly, I have a tutorial on it here: http://www.britvsjapan.com/get-thousands-contextual-sentences-learning-languages-sentence-banks although you might have seen it already if you read the above post :p

      I would say that as long as you are doing something and as long as it is enjoyable, you are on the right track 🙂

    1. Buying off amazon/online stores, but If you can’t do that then there are popular streaming sites which (if you look into it a bit) you can download from. This page contains some streaming sites that might be useful for you http://www.britvsjapan.com/language-resources. Also, nyaa is a common site that a lot of people use. Use it at your own risk though.

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