The Working Person’s Japanese Studies

Shinjuku at night.

Like many Japanese learners, I would love to be able to spend 8 hours a day making massive progress by leaps and bounds, every day. And like many learners, pesky things like the need for a job or school get in the way of that. I can assure you however, that there are ways to make the most of your time! Here are a few tips that I want to share. Some of them may not apply to your situation, in fact some of them don’t even apply to mine at the moment! Feel free to try whatever you think would help you!

  • Is there travel time for school/work? Play podcasts or audio rips. This could be done in your car stereo if you’re driving, or an mp3 player if you’re walking/on the bus, etc. I use Songbird and iTunes to create a combination playlist of music and podcasts, and listen to them to and from work.
  • Use break times and lunch times. This is especially useful if you have a mobile device you can use to do a few reviews on your SRS program, for example. Things like printed materials are equally as useful.
  • Free up time from household chores. If you’re responsible for your own house/apartment, you know how this can be a time-sucking vampire! Sometimes investing in automating certain tasks (ie: dishwasher, etc.) can equal more free time for Japanese! If investing isn’t an option, you can actually reduce instead. Before we got a dishwasher, I actually got rid of a lot of dishes and cutlery so it couldn’t pile up. Can you tell I really dislike doing dishes? >.>
  • Do Japanese during household chores. For those unfortunate times when you have to some task other than play PS3, you can do passive Japanese. For example our home layout lets me hear the TV from the kitchen. Or on other ends of the house, I have my Android phone with me for Japanese audio and video. This might have previously felt like sacrificed time—no longer!
  • Do certain things only on days off. What I mean by this, is you don’t want to spend your already busy day just preparing for Japanese and not doing it. For example, if your precious after-work/school free time is spent just seeking new media or trying to get a program to work, and not actually doing Japanese, it’s sort of a day lost. That’s why I only do that sort of stuff on the weekend when there is room for experimentation and possible device failure.
  • Have a mobile device. You could probably see this one coming. This to me is without a doubt the single greatest investment you can make for your Japanese. Yes, even more than a dishwasher. It’s the equivalent of purchasing time. You can turn those lost few minutes of your day here and there into literally hours of SRS study. I’ve tried both handhelds and tablets and do find the whole “fits in your pocket” element of a handheld to be more useful in regards to flexibility. They both have their place, but I’m more likely to be able to take out my cellphone for 2-3 minutes at the checkout than I am a 10 inch tablet. That being said, a tablet is far better for things like PDFs or other materials that seeing the big picture (literally) is needed.
  • Have your environment in Japanese. Another one that many of you are likely doing already. The first thing that comes to mind here is interfaces. Your computer, game console, Facebook, camera, mobile device—whatever it is, if you can switch it to Japanese, do so. This way even if you get caught up in non Japanese tasks, you’ll still at least have the exposure to keep you on track. I also have materials around the house or packed in a take-with bag so that I don’t really have to think about bringing stuff here and there. The living room of course has my computer and game console, bedstand has manga and Kindle, even the washroom has some “disposable” printed material (yes I went there.) Just having stuff around you in Japanese will help things naturally take their course.
  • Make it the first and last thing you do. Each day, I try to make doing something in Japanese how I both start and end my day. After hitting that snooze button in the morning, I try to wake up my mind by doing a few SRS reps. Before turn out the lights, some DS or a manga session are often in order. Something about having these activities at the tail ends of your day seems to make a big difference.

Tool Recommendation & Bonus Interview – Tangorin

Putting the tango in tangorin.

Tangorin is an online Japanese dictionary that I came across purely by chance. It bases standard results on a dictionary definition, a few example sentences with furigana, and a kanji breakdown. If you want to be specific, you can have it give you a very extensive list of examples as your results, kanji-related results only, etc. Where this flexibility really shines is how with the click of a button, you can send any item to a personalized list for later study. No copying and pasting needed here! What I do is collect examples and other information over time, then use Send To Kindle to read it later. (The furigana doesn’t seem to take effect on that list, so instead I apply Furigana Injector.) It can also be used in Learning With Texts as a dictionary option, so it makes for a very welcome addition to my resources!

As a special bonus, Gregory Bober, the creator of Tangorin, has graciously answered a few questions about the project! Here’s what he had to say:

What prompted you to start Tangorin?

I was a Japanese language student at University of Warsaw working
part-time as a web developer. I used different online dictionaries for
hours on a daily basis and simply wasn’t satisfied with the overall
functionality. I discovered the WWWJDIC project and created my own
interface to the freely available dictionary files. It’s been five
years since I registered “” and made it public. Tangorin
is where my interest in Japanese meets my passion for programming.

I’ve noticed the site pulls information from a number of sources such
as Tatoeba and JMdict. How did you come to collaborate with these
other projects?

There are many great open projects such as the Electronic Dictionary
Research and Development Group (home of JMdict), Tatoeba (example
sentences), or KanjiVG (stroke order diagrams). They maintain and
distribute raw data files for everyone to use in their own work. These
are all community driven projects. My “job” is to make that data
available to the users in the most convenient format.

What features can users hope to see in the future?

I plan on combining data from the Japanese WordNet to provide a
thesaurus-like functionality. I have a working prototype of a
translation tool based on Wikipedia that simply displays article
titles in selected languages. It’s surprisingly useful. How many times
have you looked up an article on Wikipedia and then clicked on
available translations to see what’s it called in another language?
This feature will save you few clicks. Apart from that I hope to
improve the Vocabulary section to include a spaced repetition system
for flashcards and printable practice sheets for kanji.

How can users contribute to Tangorin?

The best way would be to contribute directly to the projects Tangorin
is based on, such as the WWWJDIC, Tatoeba and KanjiVG. There are many
ways to do that. Submitting new entries, reporting inaccurate ones, or
simply by donating.

Do you have any advice for readers learning Japanese?

Nobody, especially not the Japanese, expect you to speak perfect
Japanese. Especially when you’re just starting to learn. Don’t be
afraid to make mistakes when you speak. If the person you’re talking
to gets what you wanted to say, they won’t mind a couple of grammar
mistakes. Your goal should be to communicate and not speak perfect
Japanese. That’s something I wish someone told me more often when I
was beginning.

7 Responses to “The Working Person’s Japanese Studies”
  1. Daniru says:

    Hey Delenir.

    Long time reader and fan of your posts (and the rest of the gang’s). Was just wondering, in regards to changing computer OS language to Japanese, do you think it can still be useful for someone at the lower levels?

    I’d say i’m a lower intermediate at the moment. Just about to wrap up step 3 of core2k and have another 100 varied sentences in my personal deck so have some vocab down. Have done rtk as well.

    Just a little worried about being overwhelmed and unable to use my PC as comfortably as normal. My iPod touch and android phone are in Japanese already but PC just seems like a big jump.

    How do you get on with yours at your level?

    • Delenir says:

      Hello friend! Thank you so much for your comment!

      I think as long as you’re familiar with the OS in English, and you know a lot of kanji meanings, you’ll be fine. I get by in Windows 7 with these two elements in my favor. I’d say if you’re ok with your mobile devices in Japanese, your computer OS won’t be so bad. Of course, regardless it’s always a good idea to back up in case something happens that you don’t know how to recover from. 🙂

      It’s been a HUGE benefit for me so I highly recommend it.

    • Delenir says:

      By the way do you have a blog or anything yourself? It’s good to keep in touch with readers!

  2. Daniru says:

    I’ve been neglecting my rtk anki reviews in favour of chasing vocab, so my kanji recognition isn’t as hot as it shoukd be but slowly getting back on top of them.

    I was planning on installing Windows 8 in Japanese and dual booting actually (So my girlfriend can still use the PC and I have a safety net to fall back on if I wuss out). Considering all my devices (including my ps3 and vita now that I think about it) are in Japanese a new os can’t be much scarier.

    As for blogging, only been at Japanese in earnest for a few months now so didn’t want to take time away from study for that. But have been considering it for a while now as it’d be great for reflecting on my methods and progress and networking with guys with people in the same boat which would be awesome.

    Do you find it helps to keep you motivated and on track?

    • mikotoneko says:

      I have W7 ultimate, and switched into Japanese. I thought it would have been hard and unmanageable, but then I realized, most of what pops up and asks you questions, are pretty straight forward. Also there is a lot of borrowed words and after working out the sounds you’ll pretty much get a lot of it.

      Also, just as I do with my ipod touch, if I feel I need to change it into English to take care of a serious problem, I remember the route to get there. It is very easy to switch to English. But I’d only use it if you’re truly stuck and unable to go forward.

      Blogging does take up a lot of time, and I try my best to even it out. As you can see, there is three of us now, so it doesn’t feel so bad now. But blogging about goals and motivations can be very helpful. You do not have to blog every day per ce, or anything like that. But having a goal up and people being able to cheer you on is very empowering.

      I would put Japanese learning first, then if you have some free time blog some. Blog sites like WordPress allows you to put it all in Japanese, and you can have immersion at the same time too!

      • Daniru says:

        Thanks Mikoto.

        Some great advice. I’ll have to keep the blog idea in mind as it’s definitely something I want to get up and running at some point.

        Thanks again for all the help and keep up the awesome job you lot are doing with the blog.

    • Delenir says:

      I definitely think it helps keep me on track. By suggesting things publicly, it makes me follow my own advice. And of course it’s a great way to network with fellow learners!

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  • Read More or Die! 2011

    _2011 End Results_
    Total read for Tadoku:
    __433.3 pages!__
    Placement: 115/188
    October 2011 Contest:
    Placement: 97/120
    End Tally: 59.2
    July 2011 Contest:
    Placement: 86/142
    End Tally: 195.6
    April 2011 Contest:
    Placement: 62/106
    End Tally: 154.5
    January 2011 Contest:
    Placement: 84/99
    End Tally: 24
    August 2010 Contest:
    Placement: 20/41
    End Tally: 160

  • Read Or Die 2013

    Goal: 600
    Total: 906.26
    blew my goal outta the water!

    March 2-Week:
    Goal: 125

    Goal: 250
    Total: 314

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