As I am not studying JLPT materials or any other textbook, I have to find the new words I want to learn, by myself. My goal for 2018 was to reach 10,000 words by the end of the year, a plan that can be achieved only by learning 10 new words every day.
I started adding new words to my Anki deck that I found in novels or any other thing I read in Japanese. However, several reflections on the importance of collecting patterns and collocations made me realise that I should add more expressions and phrases to my Anki.
How it works
When I look up a word in my electronic dictionary, I sometimes decide to add it to Anki because I consider it worth memorising. My Casio allows me to mark the word and stock it in a collection for further reference, as most apps and online dictionaries do, too. This is how I collect words that I will learn later.
At least twice or three times a week, I check the words that I marked and add them to my Anki deck. What I used to do before was to enter the word alone, an operation that took me a few seconds. What I do now, is that I go through all (or almost all) the example sentences given with the word. If I can identify patterns, I will add them to my deck, but sometimes, I write an entire sentence if it is short or useful.
To give some examples:
迷路・めいろ: labyrinth. Memorising this word does not require much effort if one knows the meaning of each kanji, but the question was: would I be likely to use this word myself? Probably not. But when I read the example sentences given in my dictionary, I found the expression “迷路のような” which means “labyrinthian” and can be used in a wider range of contexts. It also reminds me of the structure “Nounのような” which I can use with other nouns. By learning one expression, I also revised a grammar point and acquired a pattern that I can use in other circumstances.
違和感・いわかん: feeling out of place. This is a word which usage one cannot guess unless we learn it in a group of words. I always find it hard to recall whether a word should be used with する or ある or です. This is why it is important to learn a word together with its grammatical particularity. For 違和感, I learnt that 違和感がある means “to feel or seem funny, out of place…” and that the contrary “違和感がない” can be used too, to say “does not seem funny or strange”.
ざら: commonplace, ordinary. Here again, just learning “ざら” is not enough. To say that something is quite common or not unusual, we say that something is “ざらにある”. I could have never guessed that we sometimes need to use にある and sometimes がある…
乱れる・みだれる means “go out of order”, “fall into disorder”, “be disarranged”, “be confused” and more… When facing this kind of word that has a lot of English counterparts, the best thing is to learn concrete examples. For example:
- 心が乱れる: lose one’s composure
- 酒を飲んで乱れる: fall into disarray from drinking
- 風で髪が乱れた: her hair was blown about by the wind.
- 室内が乱れていた: the room was in a mess.
If I had contented myself with the English definition, I would still be unsure when to use this verb. It can be because English is not my mother tongue, but I don’t think so. It would be the same if the words were given to me in French. On the contrary, seeing concrete examples (imagining a hair disarranged by the wind, an untidy room or the state of confusion you are in after drinking) gives this verb its identity and a defined role.
Pros and cons
Reading all the example sentences and deciding which to keep and which to discard takes a lot of time. Entering words in Anki used to take me a couple of minutes, it now has become a study session in itself.
Another disadvantage is that I learn fewer words. I cannot learn 10 new words per day and two or three expressions for each word also. What I do is that I still learn 10 new Anki “notes” a day, but that amounts to only 3 or 4 new words a day. I have to give up my plan to reach the 10,000 words by the end of the year and accept that my progress will be much slower than expected. Besides, giving the preference to quality over quantity might improve my understanding of the words and help me producing output (if I decide to write in Japanese someday!) but it will help me less in what remains my main goal: increasing my vocabulary as much as possible to read novels in Japanese.
Spending time on each word and reading several example sentences allows me to learn the word without effort. As I said in the cons, the process of entering words in my Anki deck becomes a study session per se. Instead of working with a vocabulary textbook, I work with my dictionary. I realise that I know well the new words I have learned recently, they seem familiar because I already spent a lot of time with them.
Of course, the main advantage of this method is to know how the word is used. It may not seem very useful to improve one’s reading skill, but it is necessary to write. Even if I am not doing writing practice at the moment, it is a good idea to start collecting patterns as soon as possible. When I decide to start writing in Japanese, I will realise that I cannot use the words I know passively. It will indeed be frustrating and may dampen my motivation to write. If I start learning patterns the day I want to start writing in Japanese, it will take me a lot of time to get somewhere, and I will regret to not have started sooner.
Learning expressions also allows me to revise grammar structures and reactivate them in my brain. There are so many grammars that I have learned and can understand but that I would not think of using…
I believe that the advantages of this method will be more evident once I start producing output. But for the time being, I enjoy studying like this. I sometimes feel at a loss when I don’t have a textbook to follow and working with my dictionary is a decent ersatz. Studying Anki has also become a little more enjoyable because the same word appears several times in different contexts, which makes remembering a lot of words much more manageable.