Buddy Lindsey blogs about Japan and Japanese langage, history and culture at his blog Dumb Otaku. Here he shares a method combining flashcards and videos that he’s used to successfully build his Japanese vocabulary.
By Buddy Lindsey
We can learn all the grammar in the world and while it truly is important, if you don’t have the vocabulary to back it up then your grammar isn’t going to get you anywhere. It seems many learners of Japanese find grammar fairly easy compared to learning a few thousand new words and being able to recall them at will.
So that means we must learn the words. This can be accomplished in a number of ways, from contextual learning to drills with flash cards. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.
Learning words through context has the benefit of showing you when and how to use the word from the beginning, but it can take a lot of time to learn the words this way since you are learning more than one thing at a time.
Flash cards are a quick way to gain a lot of vocabulary, but the downside is they give you little to no context. This forces you to study more down the road to put them in proper sentences with what grammar you do know.
There is a way to get a little bit of the best of both worlds, but it requires more study time during each session and a concerted effort. I call it “active recall” and it has proven fairly successful the couple of weeks I have been doing it.
The premise is that you have active learning periods where you study by doing drills, researching the language, etc. There is also inactive learning during which you might just be listening with little to no thought about what is being said. Active recall is actively listening for comprehension and context.
Using this approach, you study as many words as you want for about an hour. You must really study and really drill them into your head. No 5 minutes here, 5 minutes there with a 10 minute sandwich and bathroom break in between. The next step is to bring up an old show, be it anime or a Japanese drama, that you have watched before. Watch it again with subtitles and listen for the words you just studied. Read the subtitles and meld it all together.
The tricky part is doing it properly; the first few times can be rough. It is called “active” recall because you must actively listen for the words you just studied, along with other words you know, and combine them together. The idea is to try to understand the context without subs. It’s OK if you have trouble in the beginning — the subtitles are helpful to guide you through the process to understand the context around the phrases.
This has three benefits:
1) You learn words faster.
2) You learn context, too, which also helps you learn the words faster.
3) You learn intonation. This was something that caught me off-guard. In addition to picking up new vocabulary, I also was learning how to properly say the words because I was associating the word and context and the sound all together.
So block off two hours every couple of days and give this a shot. It is a lot more fun than you might think. If you can study your flashcards very intently for 20 to 30 minutes you can probably skip that last half hour and go to the video. Just remember: shows you have already seen make it easier to do this.
Let me know if this helps you.