Power Up Your Japanese

At last, the day has come for me to walk down the monolingual road. Basically what this means using a Japanese dictionary to look up unknown Japanese words. This is an experiment I’ve been doing over the last little while, and now that I have a system that’s working, I’d like to share it with you, the wonderful reader. It feels like I’ve just powered up to a whole new level. Perhaps in time, it will be kinda like…
This could be you.

This could be you.

I admit, I really did think of the whole Super Saiyan transformation seen above while undertaking this project. In all seriousness though, if you’re looking to make this leap, I would highly recommend having a good handle on kanji meanings, and having a vocabulary level of at least JLPT N4 or Core 2000. If anything, the kanji is the most useful because it will give you a general idea of what’s going on. While taking this plunge, I also took the advice I’ve seen on many blogs: start by looking up words you already know. This is why I dubbed my experiments The Journey of 公園 (public park). This was a word I already knew, and I liked the symbolism of it. It would be like a walk in the park…
Miller Point 公園

Miller Point 公園

How did this journey begin? Well, it’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Learning With Texts. It’s a huge time saver, and more effective on top of it. So naturally, I adapted LWT to monolingual use. A lot of this stuff can easily be done with just an SRS like Anki, it’s just that something like LWT will take a lot of the tedious steps away for you. If you do use LWT, first you’ll want to change your dictionaries. Have a look at my LWT post for how to do that. There are a few good ones out there, but Yahoo dictionary is my personal choice, and is really all I use. The URL for the monodic version of Yahoo! is: http://dic.yahoo.co.jp/detail?p=###&stype=0&dtype=0. (As you’ve probably noticed, you just replace the term being searched with ### in the URL.) If you’re doing this manually and not with LWT, you want to select 国語 as the dictionary type. You could also try out Goo, Wikitionary, or Sanseido. First let’s take a look at what typical monodic results look like on Yahoo…
For example...

For example…

So first you have the term itself with the reading, まつり and then with kanji 祭り. On the far right are other terms that contain the word or part of the word in it. It can be good to check that first because sometimes the results don’t always show what you’re looking for. After the term you see a numbered list. These are various definitions of the word. Some of the ones that have text in green after them are rare literary definitions so you likely won’t want to include those. As a guideline, I only include 2-3 definitions per term. You’ll also see some example sentences in 「brackets」. Take note that the word itself is replaced by a ― in the examples. This seems to be quite common in Japanese dictionaries. In the case of verbs and other words that change like that, only the root is replaced by a ―. And that’s the quick and dirty on how Yahoo!辞書 works.
Now the magic begins. Start with a sentence that contains only words you know. It can come from anywhere, even a Google search. Enter that one sentence into LWT, and look up each word with your monolingual dictionary to create the terms. I make sure to have the definition and reading as separate fields, unlike I used to do. I’ll show you why later on. Once you start adding terms, you’ll probably have some words in the definition you don’t know yet. There are a few ways you can go about this
Selecting a term.

Selecting a term.

One way is branching (jumping). This basically means you look up the word in the definition you don’t know, and find the monolingual definition to that one, and look up words in that definition you don’t know, and so on… The problem with trying to create extra SRS cards this way is that this branching can get out of hand. For example I ended up getting something like 40 cards based on one sentence. If it works for you then go for it, but if not…
Bird is the word when it comes to branching.

Bird is the word when it comes to branching..

You can also try a transitional sort of card for your terms. If the monolingual definition makes sense to you, then great–leave it that way. If you’re still not sure of what the word means, most words in the 和英 (Japanese->English) dictionary actually feature short bilingual definitions of the word in question. The best part about this is while the English part is usually a rough translation of the word, the Japanese part tends to be an actual explanation. Not only does this still include Japanese text, but you can often get the nuance of the words this way and hopefully get an aha moment when reading it. Even when doing this, I often add the full J>J definition first, as seen below.
Mixed definition.

Mixed definition, mostly Japanese.

Every term I end up with has two different card formats in Anki. One tests me on the reading of the term, showing the meaning etc in the question portion. The other type tests me on the meaning of the word, showing me the reading in the question portion. This is so I can handle these two elements separately  There’s an idea that every card should only have 1 question and 1 answer. By following that idea, I find I can learn cards quickly and effectively. At the moment about half my cards are pure monolingual, and the other half are transitional.




So when you don’t have any English to compare your answer to, how do you grade yourself? What I came up with goes something like this: If you understand the definition, and your idea of what the word means makes sense in the example sentence, then it’s correct. Simple as that. If you follow the guidelines above for deciding between pure monolingual and transitional cards, then really every one should be a winner.
Can you tell I really like the whole "road" imagery when it comes to learning Japanese?

Can you tell I really like the whole “road” imagery when it comes to learning Japanese? This is the 公園 behind Desbrisay Museum.

Now time for some bonus stuff! If you’re looking to quiz yourself even further in a monolingual environment, give Yahoo!きっず学習-漢字 a shot. There are lessons on other topics like science or even English on there to test yourself from a Japanese perspective. Or maybe you’ve got enough 国語(こくご) and your goal now is to cut down on English? Start by figuring out what your biggest time suckers are and either limit or get rid of them altogether. For example, I know certain websites are after my time, so I’ve become a big fan of Chrome Nanny and Leech Block, for Chrome and Firefox respectively. Use it wisely!

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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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