Language log 2014-02-17: Studying harder, or studying smarter?

Studying harder, or studying smarter?

Since I started using gold lists to build up my vocabulary, I’ve noticed that I’m studying with more commitment. But is studying harder the same as studying smarter?

Am I making the best use of my time? Am I concentrating too much on vocabulary building at the expense of listening and reading?

Of course, I don’t think this is a zero-sum situation. It’s possible that by focusing on vocabulary, I’m also helping to build up the rest of my Japanese.

However, any spill-over gains from all this vocab work have diminishing returns.

That’s why I’ve been considering cutting back the vocab work so that I bite into reading and listening.

So, where am I now, and what’s the plan going forward?

Right now, I get to work shortly before seven, and aim to do two 20-minute distillation sessions, so that I can finish up by 7:50 am, ready for a 10-minute break before launching into reading and listening at eight.

It rarely works out that way. In practice, I start the first distillation at a good time, around 7:55 or 8 am. However, each distillation takes substantially longer than a pure gold list method because I mix it up with some transcription-style learning.

Instead of writing each word just once, I end up writing it at least twice, and often three times. I do this because kanji is more demanding to learn than anything based on the Latin alphabet. Plus, it’s good for writing practice.

So, in the end, a distillation period can take more than 30 minutes. To be clear, with the second and especially the third distillation, I try to pack in two distillations per 20-minute session.

That means that each day before work, I’m doing 2? to 3 hours of study, but the majority of this is simply reviewing vocabulary. I want to change the balance.

My current emphasis on learning words is partly out of necessity ? I simply don’t have enough words to start following along to news items or dramas on TV. But it’s also partly because I’m scared of the work involved in taking the next step.

So, this blog post is a way for me to not just formulate a new plan, but to get myself on record so that I don’t slip into lazy habits.

Here’s the new plan: Cut down the vocab to half the time ? i.e. do no more than one 20- to 30-minute session. After that, take the 10-minute break and go straight into listening and reading. If I can start the guts of my daily Japanese by 8:30 am, then I can aim to do at least an hour of solid reading. During the rest of the day, I can plug in the earphones and listen in the background.

And that’s the plan. I’m pretty sure I’ll act on it eventually. It’s just a question of when. A question of building myself up to the point where I feel comfortable with it.

Because it still feels a like a really big step.


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