Year In Review

Looks like another year has passed, so it’s a perfect time to look back on how my Japanese studies have progressed, and think about making some tweaks for the coming year. Last year, I decided that I wanted to focus more on extensive reading. While I initially planned to do this using the resource of chilren’s books known as EhonNavi, I very quickly came across another resource that I liked much better, the Pibo app. I did manage to stick to reading children’s books on Pibo throughout the year. I managed to read about every other day, on average. I also occasionally read articles from NHK Easy News, though I don’t like this resource so much because the majority of the articles are just so freaking boring. However, I didn’t read as much as I really planned to. I hope to increase my reading amount this year.

I also spent a good chunk of time both watching some Japanese shows on Netflix, as well as researching into how to extract the subtitles, and then using those subtitles to help studying a bit. I am proud that with the help of some others, we have finally managed to finally make it pretty easy to extract subtitles from any Netflix show. I admittedly haven’t actually used those subtitles a whole lot yet for studying, but that is something I want to focus on more in this coming year.

I’ve also continued doing daily anki reps, slowly continuing to add content from Common Japanese Collocations. I really want to finish this up in the coming year, because it still continues to be the most valuable resource for studying in Anki that I have come across.

I feel like I’m still just taking baby steps, but progress is progress. Here’s looking forward to another year of Japanese!

6-Month Update Nugget

Well, it’s certainly been a while since I last wrote an update here. I knew that was going to be the case last time I posted, but what I didn’t know was just how badly I was going to fall off the Japanese study train. The same thing got me that probably gets so many other people–life changes. Whereas I previously had everything worked out really nicely to where I knew exactly when I could study Japanese every day, now I’m running on a whole different schedule, and I don’t necessarily have access to the tools that I needed to accommodate my old routine. I’ve gotten married (to a Japanese woman, no less), taken on more responsibilities at work, and moved into a tiny apartment where there is not really space for my PC setup (my keyboard is sitting on a cardboard box on the floor as I type this). While my life is great in general, my Japanese studies are most definitely not going so well.

I thought that getting married to and living with a Japanese woman would be fantastic for my Japanese (but that’s not the reason why I married her, I promise!). However, that really couldn’t be further from the truth. We are living in the USA, so her priority is really on learning English. So English ends up being our default language all the time. The Japanese usually just comes out when her temper flares up, in which case it’s too fast for me to comprehend. On the positive side, she usually has Japanese variety shows streaming from YouTube and DailyMotion every morning, so that at least keeps me engaged with Japanese on a daily basis a little bit.

My Anki reviews have mainly been just that–reviews. I rarely find the time to sit down and add new material. Whereas I used to sit at my PC for hours every day, as previously mentioned, I don’t really have a good spot for my PC right now, so sitting down to use it for more than a few minutes is very uncomfortable. I used to use my PC for pretty much EVERYTHING related to studying Japanese, so that has really made things a bit difficult for me. This situation should only last for a few more months though, until I get my new house built.

So, my Japanese still sucks. I recognize that it still sucks. So what am I going to do about it? You certainly didn’t think that this post was just going to be me whining about how I can’t study Japanese, did you? No, I have plans to turn this around and get back on track!

I have actually started adding some new material to Anki. I previously mentioned that I had a lot of success studying collocations, especially thanks to the book Common Japanese Collocations. While I had previously put several hundred of these collocations into Anki and studied them as recognition cards, now I am going back and using cloze deletion to make them production cards. Because I am working from material that I already added to Anki, it just takes me few minutes on my PC every couple of days to add clozes to a few more cards so I can later study them on my phone. Studying the cards this way feels way better and more useful than when I was just doing recognition cards. I feel that this will really help me with speaking and writing.

I also recently came across a really cool website, called Animelon. I previously wrote about some cool ways to study subtitled videos using Pot Player. Well, Animelon works pretty much the same way, only through a website where they already have the anime and subtitles set up and ready to watch. You get English and Japanese subtitles, as well as other options like Hiragana and Katakana. The lines of dialog are displayed in a box beside the video and you can click any line to play it. You can also click any word in the subtitles to do a dictionary lookup (though it seems a bit finicky and doesn’t always work). While not really as robust as setting it all up yourself, its really nice because everything is all set up and ready to go for you. I imagine this site might not be around forever though, as I doubt they have rights to all the shows they are displaying here. But it certainly looks like it will be useful while it’s available.

Finally, there is a resource that I have known about for years, but never really taken advantage of. It’s the Hukumusume Fairy Tale Collection. This site has a ton of Japanese children’s stories and other content. Being that it’s for kids, it’s all fairly easy to read, even for the things that don’t have English. While this site is overflowing with content, there is one thing in particular that I am planning to focus on: 今日の日本昔話 Today’s Japanese Fairy tale.  They actually have a story set up for every single day of the year. So, I’m planning to (hoping to) visit and read the story every single day, to keep my reading skills sharp. I think I will probably fail at keeping this up, but I’m going to try. I wish the site was more mobile device friendly, but its not all that bad I suppose. This is a wonderful site though, so maybe I will write some more about it in the future.

Anyways, that’s where things stand for now. Things are kinda crazy, but I’m going to do what I can to bring my Japanese back on track.

Keep on truckin’

When I last posted here, I had just finished posting all of the Little Charo scripts, and mentioned that I wanted to spend a few more weeks studying that material, and then try to find another project to get involved in.

Well, at first, I thought that I wanted to try making a parallel Japanese and English script to the game Mother 3. But… this turned out to be waaaaaay more difficult and time consuming than I had imagined. While there is a complete Japanese script already posted online, the only complete English script online is cut up into bit and pieces and distributed across tons of different files, making it difficult to find any particular text that you want. I eventually came to the conclusion that simply playing through the English version of the game and transcribing it by hand would be the most efficient method. But that turned out to be far slower than I had ever anticipated. I also questioned the genuine usefulness of what I was trying to do, and finally decided to give up before wasting too much of my time on it.

From there, my thoughts turned to just playing the game in Japanese for my own benefit. I intended to play through first in English, then start over and go through the Japanese version with the Japanese scripts in hand. But… after playing through the game once in English, I realized that I really don’t like this game enough to play through it a second time. Meh.

After that, I decided to turn to anime. I came across Shirokuma Cafe a while back, and have really been wanting to go through it thoroughly with Subs2SRS. So I decided to give that a shot. But you know what? Trying to use Subs2SRS on that also turned out to be FAR more difficult than I had anticipated, at least at first. But, through my hours upon hours of trial and error, I have finally gotten to the point where I can Subs2SRS with ease!

Let’s talk about the issues I faced with Shirokuma Cafe for a moment. First, I wanted to create Anki cards that contained both the Japanese subtitles, English subtitles, image, and an audio clip. The fansub group Orphan put out some releases from Bluray sources that contain English subtitles. And then I find some releases from an apparently Chinese group called Kamigami which had released episodes with Japanese subtitles, but these were sourced from the TV broadcasts rather than Bluray, so right off the bat the two weren’t going to sync up perfectly. But, with a bit of effort, I was able to get them reasonably in sync with one another and proceeded to create my cards in Subs2SRS, and then began studying in Anki. I thought it was a bit odd that some of the subtitles had emoticons in them, but I thought “hmm, I guess the show is just trying to be cute.” I mean after all, the subtitles in the opening animation contain an emoticon, so it didn’t seem completely out of the question. I came across several words and phrases in that first episode that I couldn’t really figure out the meaning of, but I just persevered,  and then went on to episode two. As I began studying this episode in Anki, my concerns were growing too large to ignore. Not only did the subtitles seem to have EXCESSIVE amounts of emoticons, but they also seemed to contain a lot of typos. At this point I started asking around, and I discovered that the Japanese subtitles that I was using were not the official subtitles, but were actually transcriptions that the Chinese group had written! It was at this point that I went back to a lot of the words and phrases that hadn’t made sense to me, and I was able to see that the words had just been written down incorrectly! So this was a fine mess. Here I was trying to learn Japanese using subtitles that were filled with errors.

At this point, I noticed that there were other Japanese subtitles available on kitsunekko for Shirokuma Cafe. These looked like official subtitles, and did not contain any of the typos that plagued the other ones I had been using. But the problem is, these subtitles are timed to the original tv broadcast, with space left in for commercials and everything. So, they would require a bit of effort to sync up with either version of the episodes that I had. Also, for some reason or other, the subtitles for the first two episodes were in the .ass file format, while all the later episodes were in the .srt format. [As an interesting side note, I am the person who actually came up with the idea and specifications for the .ass subtitle format way back in the early 2000’s when I was a fansubber, but that’s a story for another day.]

So here we are, and I have English subtitles that are synced up perfectly to a bluray release, and I have Japanese captions which are apparently synced up to the original tv broadcast. And not only does the sync differ between them, but the line breaks are completely different as well. I spent a lot of time trying to get the Japanese captions synced up to the bluray video, but it appeared that this was not just a simple time shift that needed to be done. When I had one line synced up perfectly, another line would be several seconds off! It didn’t make any sense to me. In order to get things synced up properly, I really would have had to go through and completely re-time the episode, which would probably take around an hour or two. At this point, I thought “welllllll, I really don’t need the audio clips to be on my cards. Just the Japanese and English text is enough.” So, I just adjusted the sync as best I could to get the majority of the lines synced up, then I ran the script through Subtitle Edit to clean it up a bit and erase some of the closed captioning parts that I didn’t need. Then I dumped it into Subs2SRS, and it actually turned out pretty good. I was really surprised at how well it matched up the Japanese and English lines with each other. Not perfect, but there was only a small handful of lines that I needed to fix up manually.

So once again, I finally made it through the first two episodes, and moved on to episode 3. As you recall I mentioned above, starting with episode 3, the scripts were in the .srt file format. I didn’t think much of it at first, but once I began trying to sync it up with the episode, I was pleasantly surprised for the first time throughout this entire ordeal. Now, it seemed that the timing of the lines was much better, and with just a little time shifting (once at the beginning, and again at the point of the commercial break), almost every line syncs up to the audio almost perfectly! Episode 4 worked out the same way! At this point, it looks like I can Subs2SRS all of the remaining episodes with only about 5 minutes of prep work for each one! I could even turn the audio clips back on if I wanted to. But really, I don’t want to. I prefer doing my Anki reps without having to listen to anything. I do frequently listen to the full episode audio though, for listening practice.

All in all, Shirokuma Cafe is a really fun and cute anime, with mostly easy Japanese. After a rough start, I am now really enjoying studying with this show! I imagine that I might work my way through all 50 episodes, but its probably going to take me around 2 years if I continue at a rate of two weeks per episode. But, I think I might be able to speed up over time? Maybe? In any case, it solves the problem of me floundering around not knowing what to do. I have something here which I can study, enjoy, and actually learn a lot from!

Maybe I should post up my re-timed scripts here? I don’t know, maybe I’ll think about it. From episode 3 on, its really not that hard to fix them up yourself, if you wanted to study this anime. But I’ll consider it if anyone is interested. (update: you can find my re-timed episodes 3-6 in the comments below)

And in the meantime, what am I going to post here? Hmmm… maybe nothing. I mean, I’ll be busy studying Japanese, after all.

4 Month Progress Report

Four months ago, I started up this blog, with the intention of using it to somewhat hold myself accountable for making progress forward in my Japanese studies. In my first post, I explained how I felt about the current state of things at that time, and how I was planning to make progress.

So now, looking back on things four months later, where do I stand? Have I grown, or remained stagnant?

One of my primary goals was to get better at understanding normal Japanese conversations and being able to talk to people. I began using as one of my primary learning tools. Starting out, I was listening around 35 hours per week. However, I have had to slow that down significantly for two reasons. For one, my job now requires a lot more mental concentration than it did at that time, and the level of difficulty of the audio lessons I am listening to now also require a much higher level of mental concentration than the easier lessons I was working through back then. And two, my anki reviews for the material were growing a bit too large with the amount of material I was adding daily. So I am doing about 1-2 lessons per day on average now.

In terms of my listening comprehension ability, it has definitely increased from the level it was at before. Of course, it’s impossible to measure objectively, but I feel like my listening ability has improved somewhere between 50-100%. In terms of the dialogs, I am able to understand “newbie” series dialogs effortlessly. I am able to understand “beginner” series dialogs as long as I focus. And I am able to mostly follow along with “lower intermediate” dialogs as long as I am listening intently, but still have difficulty catching everything at full speed.

In terms of my speaking ability, I feel like it has improved very little, if at all. This does not surprise me much, as I have not practiced it much.

For reading, I really feel like my reading speed and comprehension has improved a lot since I began going through Little Charo. I do a quick read through while playing the game, without worrying about full comprehension or looking up words. Then my intention is to go back later, and read through the scripts while trying to understand everything, and add useful words and phrases into anki. However, this part has proved to be considerably time consuming, and I have fallen behind in it. For longer episodes, I am considering only doing a thorough review of parts of the text that contain my frequently used vocabulary words. Then later on at some point in the future, I may come back through and do “full” readings of those episodes.

All in all, I’m mostly happy with the progress that I have made in the past four months. I have created around 1200 new anki cards in that time, which is about 10 per day. The one big thing that I am disappointed in is my writing/speaking ability. I really struggle with expressing myself in Japanese. I definitely have the ability to practice it, but I have chosen not too. It’s very time consuming for me, not to mention extremely mentally taxing, so if I focused more on that then I would definitely have to drop off either Little Charo or And I really don’t want to lose my momentum on those things. My plan is that once I finish one of those, then I will move on to focus heavily on writing practice at that time. I wonder if a well-rounded plan might be superior to focusing on just a couple of things? But it just feels like there is not enough time in the day nor enough motivation to do EVERYTHING.

A trip to Japan is coming up in August, so maybe I really ought to make the speaking/writing practice a priority right now. We’ll see.



Hi, let me introduce myself. I’m that guy.

You know, the guy who has been studying Japanese forever, but doesn’t have a whole lot to show for it. I’m sure that if you have engaged with other Japanese learners, you have probably met that guy before. Heck, maybe you are that guy too!

I began studying Japanese back around 2002. Except for a couple of years off around 2005-2006, I’ve supposedly been studying this whole time. I’ve taken years worth of classes, passed JLPT Level 3 (back when it only had 4 levels instead of 5), engaged in lots of different self-study methods, and even got a bachelor’s degree in Japanese language.

And yet, I still can’t hold a basic spoken conversation in Japanese.

But, I want to change that. I have plenty of motivations for learning Japanese, but I need to make sure I’m on the right track. Far too often, I get stuck in a rut of just doing the same things over and over, even when it’s not helping me to move forward. I need to keep myself honest, and make sure I am actually studying and learning using methods that will show real results.

This blog is going to be a sort of record of what I’m doing. I’ll talk about what I’m currently doing, what has been working for me, what hasn’t worked for me, my thoughts on language acquisition, and I may even post some useful study materials every now and then. Hopefully, taking the time to write this down in a public space will help me to stay on track and constantly reevaluate whether or not I’m making progress.

And just maybe, I might eventually be able to have a conversation or two in actual Japanese.