Learning Japanese Entry #9 Entering the Intermediate Stage


This is entry 9 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.


Diary Entry

29th of December 2015: Recently I’ve been home for Christmas Holiday so my immersion hasn’t been quite as continuous as I wish, although I make sure that I’m still doing something in Japanese if I’m talking to family or friends. For example, today we had a some family over and although I was sociable with them I was still listening with one earphone in and doing reviews on Anki.

It’s difficult and sometimes I do feel rude, especially when people point out that I have earphones in, but once you get over it the first few times then ignoring/shrugging it off becomes a little bit easier. So even though I’m around family and friends a lot I’m still trying to keep Japanese at the fore front of my day. I’d say I still come into contact with Japanese more than English but using English and hearing English is obviously going to set me back ever so slightly than if it where just Japanese.

I have one more week left until I return to University where I will be back in full immersion mode, but full work mode too.

Ahh exams… (dies inside).

On a side note I have realised that my listening has dramatically improved despite what I’ve just said. After passing the 5/6 month mark it sort of all began to come together and now I’m following conversations in TV’s and Anime with very little difficulty. Even sentences where I don’t understand most of the words I’ve noticed that I understand the meaning behind them, especially if I know at least one or two words. It’s weird and very difficult to explain but I guess it’s like a giant puzzle and it’s all coming together. I can only assume that the words that I have heard before in other contexts but haven’t fully learnt yet are still recognised by the brain and therefore help with comprehension in other contexts, but that’s a complete guess.

Anyway, the massive exposure is allowing me to understand more and more of the language, to get a feel for it I guess, and this will obviously escalate the more I am exposed. Based on how quickly I reached my current level of comprehension, I would think I will be able to understand any TV show within the next year including the news (might be a bit of a stretch but I think it’s possible).

In short, after 5-6 months of constant listening I feel that the progress I have made is absolutely huge and I don’t think I would have been able to do it with other methods. Using Anki to boost listening by learning the most common words in Japanese and Anime has been incredibly helpful too. Also taking sentences from my favourite shows such as Sword Art Online has helped a bunch. Coincidentally one of my goals is to understand most of Sword Art Online within 2 months and I’m currently 1 month(ish) in to it. I can already understand most of it.

I’ve also noticed my reading come along great bounds despite not doing it as much as I’d like. I can read and follow most subtitles and with my knowledge of Kanji I can understand most words, that I don’t already know, without ever seeing them before, (I think this is the key to RTK and Kanji itself). Learning to read a dictionary has also improved my reading skills as a side effect which is really nice but the dictionary reading is rather difficult at times and can be intensive. I might change the way I go about it as the sentences I pick from the dictionary as they don’t always have enough *umph* for me and I get bored with them and delete them.  I expect I will search my subtitle files for example sentences where the word is used so I can get a more contextual understanding of the word based on shows I’ve already watched. I think I will be able to read a Japanese only dictionary with 80% comprehension within the next couple of months at least.

I finished the sentences in the 2000 Core Vocab deck (well the ones I wanted to keep, some of them can be quite boring) and have been using subs2srs for mass sentence mining of TV/Anime. This is mainly how I’ve been trying to understand Sword Art Online and is super efficient. I delete a lot but also use a lot more than I would if I manually did it myself (I am super lazy). This is probably my savior in this long adventure as I couldn’t see myself collecting 10,000 sentences by hand, but subs2srs allows you to generate thousands within half an hour.

You can literally mine an entire season :0

Praise to subs2srs!!

So yeah this is going to be super useful. I also started making music sentences cards, I’m still testing it at the moment but it seems to be promising. It has allowed me to accumulate some more difficult vocabulary and allowed me to memorize some of my favourite songs which is great. I simply cut a song up with an audio editor in to one line chunks and learn those lines, eventually the whole song just comes together. At this stage though there is some really hard vocab which I just can’t understand from a J-J dictionary so I often ignore or delete those sentences or lines in favour of waiting until I am ready for them.

Oh and going back to reading, I am reading more but still not as much as I’d like. I do constantly check twitter (now 95% Japanese) and read manga from time to time (I’d say every other day), but I need to do it a bit more. I want to set myself a daily goal of a certain number of pages but I’m not sure if that’ll help. I’ll see how it goes.

Anyway, I’ve wasted enough time writing English so I will get on with the stats:

Listening: 3612~ hours

My Kanji deck seems to be in a constant loop of forgetting mature and re-learning so stats haven’t moved much. This will slowly fix itself over time
with more reps but is a little depressing haha. Oh well! Forgetting is a thing, you just got to deal with it.
All (Heisig): Mature 1351, Young+Learn 547, Unseen 0, Suspended 0

(Combined all my sentence decks together during the J-J conversion, besides subs2srs decks as they can be huge, I add the new sentences to this deck
after I learn them though)
All Sentences: Mature 1945, Young+Learn 1462, Unseen 0, Suspended 0 (managed to delete the anime script, it took a while though)

(RTK3 + Some RTK1 kanji, only adding 5 new a day, also having a hard time with this one, will probably suspend a lot)
Extra Kanji: Mature 72, Young+Learn 301, Unseen 732, Suspended+Buried 4

End of entry

Making steady progress

This entry is coming up to 2 years old and looking back on it made me feel really nostalgic and kinda happy for my past self. If I could go back in time I would definitely give myself a pat on the back. At this stage it all just kinda started coming together. The method, the language, everything became plain sailing. Looking back, this is the first sign that I started breaking into the intermediate stage.

I seemed to be panicking a lot about the tiniest bit of English that entered my eyes or ears but it really doesn’t matter THAT much. As long as Japanese is the majority of your day, you will be fine. I discussed briefly about keeping one earphone in while talking to people. Most people in this day and age are used to earphones and are more used to talking to people while they have earphones in, so for the most part they think nothing of it. It’s the rare occasions, when you are at a family meal, or at the pub with your friends and someone points it out in-front of everyone. That is SUPER embarrassing, but if you just come out straight to everyone with what you are doing, although some of them may not agree with it, most of the time they will accept it and not mention it again. I actually had a pretty bad fight with my Dad once about having an earphone in while eating a family meal, that was fun…

At the time I thought that every drop of Japanese was super important, but in reality this behavior probably only got me to my goal of fluency, at most, a month earlier than if I hadn’t. I think the main reason I was so adamant at immersing was because I was afraid that if I stopped I would never start again. On the other hand it definitely taught me who my friends where. Once people get wind of what you are doing, they are usually very impressed and will give you words of encouragement, which can be great for extra boosts of motivation. Just try not to spend hours on end talking about Japanese with friends and family. Spend that time in Japanese.

Learning the most common words in a language

This is a brilliant tactic which I would recommend to beginners. The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. This applies to languages as well. The most common words in a language are the words that are going to get you the most mileage. They will be ones that you have no choice to learn as they literally make up the majority of the language. It is therefore a good idea to get them nailed down right now. If I was starting out as a beginner again, I would go for the first 500 most common words (70% of Japanese), find a sentence that is easy to understand and that has audio for it (this is important), and get either an English translation if you can or look up individual words and grammar parts.

The reason for having audio is to get your ears used to how the word sounds thus boosting your listening skills.

For the best way to do this I would recommend downloading this list: Most Common 3000 Words in Japanese. If you love anime then you might like this: 300 Most Common Words in Anime | Learn to Speak Japanese With Anime.

Take the first 500 and find sentences for them. After a month or two you should notice that you can hear most of these words while listening. From here on wards, just keep finding sentences that you enjoy and keep listening/reading. If you want to find out more about making sentence mining easier then definitely look into subs2srs. It’s a great tool, in fact I made an in-depth tutorial about it a while ago which you can view here: Get Thousands of Contextual Sentences for Language Learning (Sentence Banks).

I do remember using music as well for some of my cards but I will be honest, the process it took to make this cards just wasn’t worth it. They took bloody ages to make and I’m a man who loves efficiency so I quickly stopped doing it. If you want to give it a try though then Audacity, which is free, is a good start.

Finding the time for reading

This was an issue for me at the start. It took me a while to get into a normal reading routine and I knew I was struggling to read a lot at this stage. I also knew that the more I read the easier it would become. So for the time being I changed my entire twitter and Facebook feeds to Japanese only. I did this by muting any friends I had on twitter and unfollowing any friends on Facebook (two great ways to not piss off the people closest too you will still keeping away from English). Little did I know that this change was a really good idea. I had a bad habit of scrolling through twitter and Facebook for a long time, so switching everything to Japanese meant that I was forced to read Japanese whenever I ended up in one of these mindless scrolling trances. Once I got better at reading and managed to get myself into the habit of reading manga everyday, I ended up using StayFocusd to allocate myself 5 minutes a day to social media to improve my work efficiency (I still use it to this day). I also removed notifications for just about every app on my phone, PC as well as emails to completely remove any distractions (again, I still do this so if you ever want to contact me, your best bet is via the comments on this blog).


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If you have any questions please post them in the comment section below! Thanks for reading! ?


By Matthew Hawkins


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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 #9 Entering the Intermediate Stage”

  1. Hey Matt. I’ve been RTK-ing (I’ve got around 500 under my belt at the time of writing this) and immersing since January 1st and it’s going pretty well. However I don’t know whether I should be doing any more than that. I took Matt from MattvsJapan’s advice of only doing 15 a day and writing them all out by hand and all that good stuff but I find myself having a lot of free time if I only do 15 a day so I thought it would be a good idea to mix RTK with building a sentence deck but in one of your previous entries you said that was a not good idea so my question is: should i spend all my spare time immersing even more, learning more new kanji, mining sentences (It is usually what i feel like I should be doing), reading through a grammar guide (you said it will come naturally but Matt from MattvsJapan said it does help) or should i be doing something else? The reason i usually don’t feel like watching an anime in this time is because I think I could make more use of that time if i’m actively studying instead of passively studying. Oh and do you know of any beginner listening material (preferably something I can download so I can listen to it offline) aside from listening to anime audio what i’m currently doing. When I first began immersing I listened a lot to NHK news radio but that’s quite difficult so I won’t learn much or will I? it’s pretty funny because I had an argument with my dad about the exact same thing just yesterday. Keep up the blog man your doing great work the video of you talking Japanese is also really impressive.

    1. I think it depends how quickly you want to finish RTK. If you aren’t worried too much then focus that spare time on immersion as that’s the core thing you should be focusing on. On saying that though, if you want to finish it early then doing more won’t hurt that much. I wanted to get on to sentences ASAP so I really pushed myself and never learnt to write each kanji out as it took too much time (I don’t suggest this if you want to write by hand though). I’m not sure what Matt suggests with grammar guides but I just used them when I needed to. For example I would look up a piece of grammar as if it was a word, adding it to the back of my sentence cards with an explanation for it. I would first try to find an explanation in Japanese and then use Tae Kim’s as a backup, however this isn’t something you need to worry about until you start sentences. Getting a grasp on the basic particles, like は、が、も、と、の, might be something you can do before starting sentences but that only takes a few hours. Watching anime can be actively studying though, providing you are giving it your full attention. You can’t really do too much until you’ve learnt kanji anyway so keep listening and seeing Japanese text as much as you can. It doesn’t matter what you listen to right now as you are still training your ears to become able to hear Japanese so don’t worry about what you listen to. Also difficulty doesn’t matter that much, if you enjoy the content then you will eventually become able to understand it, and if you use it for sentence mining as well then you will soon find it easy to understand. NHK news can be hard but it can also be easy depending on the topic at hand. I personally did the same thing as you are right now. It was mainly anime and NHK news podcast for at least 6 months so I think you will be fine. Parents just don’t get it aha but it sounds like you are starting off well, keep it up and you will get really good really fast.
      Thanks and thank you for commenting! Hope it helped 🙂

  2. Nice. I feel like I’m at the stage you were at in about 6~8 months in almost 3 yrs. I JUST finished my third manga book after having it for so long. I feel like my listening is getting better as I watched an EP of DB Super the other day and felt like I understood most of what I was watching. I’d wager about 60~70%. If I missed something I’d listen to it a few times over and over but if I quickly looked at the subs in JP then obviously it cleared up.

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