Learning Japanese Entry #7 Being a Noob, How to RTK and Time-Boxing


This is entry 7 of my Learning Japanese Diary via the AJATT method. As always, the entry I made during the time of writing is below and after the entry I will discuss things I did right and things I did wrong, after knowing what I know now. A lot of the stuff I did in the beginning stages was stupid so definitely read to the end! Feel free to comment with any questions.

Click here for the previous entry.

Hi peeps, sorry for the delay on this series and with new posts in general. Exams and other stuff were taking up a lot of my time but now that my exams are over I thought I would update the blog.

This is an old entry to my personal diary from the beginning stages of the immersion process.

Diary Entry

28th of September 2015:

I’m going to try to keep this one short as the last one was massive. 

In the last entry I wrote about Kanji and the use of RTK to learn them. Using this method, I was getting through a steady amount of Kanji and doing relatively okay, especially with the simple ones and the ones I already knew but it got really bad later on. I could manage remembering a lot of Kanji and it went relatively well, but when you have to get through 200 sometimes 250 review cards a day and spending 1-2 minutes writing each one really begins to add up. I simply don’t have that kind of time.

I decided to read through AJATT for advice as well as looking at other methods, such as the one posted by NihongoShark, which both actually said to have the Kanji on the first side and the meaning on the back. After reading through some articles it became rather obvious as to why you have the kanji on the front. To begin with all you need to do is to be able to recognise the kanji and its meaning. From that you can help develop vocabulary words based on the meanings of kanji and will pick up their readings as you go along. I switched the cards layout and have been having a much more smooth kanji learning experience.

I also gradually got bored with writing each character out. I have put writing off for now as I don’t see the benefits of writing each character out by hand for every review.

I have began to implement time-boxing in my flashcard sessions which has brought my review time down from 2 hours to about 75-80 minutes which is great! I can get most of my kanji done by midday and then review the sentence cards that have been building up.

The amount of reviews for my sentence cards did get out of hand as well but I managed to bring the reviews down by doing a number of things.

First, I realised that most of the sentences from the pre-made anki deck I’m using actually had two sides to them. At this stage I’m only interested in recognition and reading so naturally I deleted the listening and production cards. This literally reduced my reviews in half 神様、ありがとう!

I have also began to push forward a number of cards that I don’t know just to reduce the review load each day (I can relearn those cards at a later date) this has proved rather useful in reducing the review load. Procrastination wins again!

I started classes at University and so far have only had one lesson which was super easy. We learnt the difference between ある and いる and how to form sentences such as 箱の上に猫がいます etc. Really basic stuff, I only assume the lessons will get harder but if not I’m fine with still doing it, even if I have to buy a textbook which costs 40 quid! -_-

If I go to the lessons then I should be able to take Grade 3 or 4 in my next year which will then go towards my Degree and should give me some credentials to allow me to work in Japan during my 3rd Year (I will need to get Grade 4 to do this I expect, which at my rate I believe is very doable).

I’ve almost finished my Kanji deck, I will have learnt all the Kanji in 3 days then it’s just reviews! I can then get back into sentences and then finally make the JJ leap.

I’m waiting for my Japanese only dictionary to come and I have also ordered a tonne of manga (Yotsuba!, Dragonball, and Death Note). I’ve done this for motivation + reading practice. I’m going to lie them around my flat, have them in my bag when I go to Uni etc so that If I ever have a free moment I can pick them up and start skim reading.

Obviously I won’t be able to read much yet but it will give me motivation and will give me a sense of actual writing structure.

I also met some Japanese people at the Japanese society! I’m already language exchanging with someone. We mainly talk in English, I have been speaking Japanese more with my other language exchanges on LINE which is good.

Anyway now for stats! WOO STATS!!

You will notice that the All in one Kanji deck has fewer cards, this is because the Kanji cards also had two sides to them. I deleted the none recognition sides as it was causing too many reviews and too much stress. Even though the stats are smaller I actually know MORE kanji! Also the Heisig Kanji deck is smaller than normal! This is because I deleted a lot of useless Kanji. A list of which can be found at JALUP. There are a surprisingly large number of Kanji you don’t need to know in Heisig, so why bother?

All in one Kanji deck: 460 Mature 189 Young+Learn 0 Suspended 2458 Unseen (Haven’t been learning new ones)
Heisig Kanji deck: 451 Mature 1347 Young+Learn 0 Suspended 149 Unseen
Kanji Radical deck: Deleted as I found them pretty useless plus the useful ones are in the other decks
J-E Sentence deck: NO LONGER FINISHED! I ADDED MORE!? :0 Mature: 617 Young+Learn: 193 Suspended: 39 Unseen: 645
J-J Sentence deck: Mature: 186 Young+Learn: 101 Suspended: 13 Unseen: 4086 (The unseen amount is not accurate, a lot are vocab cards)

Just to clarify, I was such a noob back then…

I did a lot of stuff wrong so here is a summary list of does and don’ts:

  • Don’t learn Kanji the quick and easy way if you want to be able to write by hand.
  • Don’t attempt sentences (even Japanese-English) without first learning Kanji.
  • If you want to learn Kanji by hand, then DO buy the RTK series on Amazon.
  • Don’t waste time with classes when there are much richer and more efficient resources out there. Unless your teacher is a massive fan of this book: Language Acquisition and Language Education. By the way, I found out later on in the year that Grade 2 was the highest at our University for Japanese study. This meant that if I completed the unit that year, I wouldn’t be able to do it in my 2nd year for credit. I swiftly dropped out of the class. It was around this time as well that I started taking AJATT WAY more seriously. I actually sent the video of Khatz speaking Japanese to my Japanese teacher, asking how good he was. She said he was amazing which was the last piece of confirmation I needed before I left. How ironic (笑). Also another side note, I took this class again this year to get credit. I ended up getting a first class without turning up much nor doing any homework. It was hilariously easy.
  • Think before buying an expensive textbook. Seriously, I never used Minna No Nihongo and now I’m trying to sell it on eBay for a lot less than what I bought it for. It was not worth it. Phrase books are cheaper and more useful BUT make sure they are written by or at least checked by natives for mistakes. I got given the Berlitz Japanese Phrase Book and they actually had a typo in one of their sentences, “いホテルを教えてください。” Seriously?!
  • Don’t have multiple versions of the same Anki card that just “switch” the front and back. This is pointless and inefficient.
  • Buy reading material really early on, in fact screw that, buy it NOW. This post should get you started. The closer you are to Japanese text, the more likely you are to pick it up and read it.
  • Don’t bother talking to “language partners” until you actually have a good grasp on the language. According to research done by Krashen (and discussed in The Natural Approach), speaking does not help language acquisition. Unless you are lucky to find someone who is happy with just listening to each other speak their native tongues, don’t bother wasting your time. Everything about this “We mainly talk in English, I have been speaking Japanese more with my other language exchanges on LINE which is good.” is really bad by the way. I quickly learned later that I was just hurting myself and I needed to shut up before I made it worse. I put some of the mistakes I make now down to my stupidity during the early stages where I thought that outputting was a good thing.
  • Do keep stats! It’s really useful to keep track of your progress. I recommend you do it and set yourself goals too. Both can be really useful for motivation and results.
  • Don’t use pre-made decks! I used the Core 10,000 for around 750 Japanese-English sentences then I moved on to entirely native sources, but I only did this in the next couple of months after this diary entry was written. The reason you shouldn’t use other people’s decks is that they are not meant for native use, they may not contain “natural” Japanese, they may not be “correct” Japanese and they will quite probably not be “contextual”, making them much harder to use and more likely to hurt you in the long run. There are too many downsides to pre-made decks so just try to stay clear. If you do use one then try to stop using it ASAP. Do not attempt something stupid like doing the entire 10,000 sentences with 1 pre-made deck, like my friend did.

How to Remember The Kanji

Okay so most of what I talked about to do with Kanji in this entry is pretty good. Come the end of the month this post was written, I had pretty much learnt all of RTK and was able to “read” basic stuff (very, very slowly with lots of looking up).

I will, however, mention a few things about how I learnt Kanji.

Front or Back?

The whole putting Kanji on the front of your cards is great if you want to “speed run” RTK. It works, you will learn the kanji and you will become able to read Japanese in record time. However, this method is somewhat lazy and comes with a huge drawback.

You will never learn to write by hand.

This isn’t too bad really. Provided you can write hiragana, katakana and any personal information, then you could probably get by. However, if you plan on living in Japan for more than a year then I would expect that you will need to learn to be able to write by hand.

I still can’t write by hand.

I currently don’t live in Japan and won’t be living there anytime soon due to my degree, so writing by hand is not something that is preventing me from “surviving” if you will. I can type via an IME on a computer perfectly fine due to being able to just type the spelling of a word, and then finding the correct option in a list.

Of course I can write SOME stuff by hand. I’ve got a deck going to fix this whole issue and my writing has gotten better compared to a year ago, but I don’t think I will get really good until I inevitably end up in the country where I will rely on it more.

So my conclusion here is to do 1 of either 2 things.

  1. Suck it up and do RTK the proper way, like it says in the books. (This way will save you time in the long run).
  2. Do RTK the way I did, having each character on the front with the meaning and a story on the back and don’t do writing practice. Then create a new “writing” deck later down the road, when you feel ready, using a combination of images and kana words on the front of the cards and then the word in kanji form on the back. Your task will then be to write the word in Kanji form from memory.


I only mentioned it briefly here but I will discuss it as I feel like it is an incredibly powerful tool for success. I had only just began to use it during this time. Within the next 2 months I setup my Sentence Bank idea and got more reading material. I then implemented time-boxing on my daily routine and I became so efficient it was unreal. If you have never heard of time-boxing then the easiest way I can explain it is by comparing it to an exam:

Why is it that we can write so much so quickly during a 1 hour exam? It’s because we are under pressure. You have limited time, therefore you perform faster.

All you have to do is time yourself and see “how much of X” you can do in “time Y“. You will see massive results with this so give it a go. I recommend 10 minutes but its down to your personal preference, so experiment. Note: if you do this for sentence flashcards it will increase your reading speed a lot. Try and make it a game and see how many you can do.

I will discuss time-boxing in more detail at some point in the future. If you need more information on it then check out AJATT’s posts on it here.

Damn, this was a longer post than I was expecting. Hopefully it contains some useful points for you though. If you have any questions about this entry or if I haven’t explained something well enough, please hit me up with a comment down below. I don’t use other social media anymore (I will discuss this in the future) so if you want to contact me, do it through the comments.

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By Matthew Hawkins