I think I got it at last! The method that suits me best to learn a language. Learning Japanese on my own has been a mess of trials and errors, of abandoned study plans and seemingly revolutionary but unrealistic study methods. But somehow, it has been fun trying different things, and designing study plans is definitely one of the reasons why I love learning things on my own.
But at last, I think that I have found a method that I can stick to, and that will help me improve my Japanese while being entertaining enough to not feel like hardcore study.
One-week challenge/immersion study method
My problem is that I regularly come up with things that I want to do on a daily basis, and of course, if these daily tasks pile up, it becomes impossible to do them all every day, and I end up dropping some of them.
As a result, I am always a little anxious because I feel that I am not doing what I should be doing. If I focus on reading, I think that I should work on grammar instead, and if I read the news, I think that I should be writing in Japanese instead…
Working on a weekly basis instead of a daily seems to suit me better: I decide on Sunday what will be next week’s topic and I stick to it during the week. I don’t need to worry about the other tasks, because they will get their week sooner or later.
It might be difficult to set oneself challenges and difficult or boring tasks every week. But you can alternate challenging weeks and immersion weeks, as long as it is linked to your target language.
Examples of one-week challenge/immersion
- Read one news article per day (translating it can be optional)
- Read … pages in Japanese per day
- Study 2 or 3 grammar per day
- Write a page of a diary in Japanese
- Watch … minutes of Japanese TV
- Listen to 20 minutes of a podcast
- Play a game in Japanese and write down new words you learn from it
- Make translation exercises
- Learn a text by heart by the end of the week (work on it every day)
- Translate Japanese recipes and cook what you have translated
- Talk in Japanese for … minutes and record yourself
- Read one blog post per day on a topic you like
Instead of trying to do everything every day and end up panicking because I can’t, I will assign each task a week and record my progress in a notebook for personal accountability.
I see several benefits in this method:
- First of all, it is not boring because each week is different from the others. The problem with doing tasks every day is that I am motivated during one or two weeks, and then every day looks the same. Focusing on a different thing every week allows your study to always feel fresh.
- If you focus on one skill/material for one week, you will progress in this area. I mean that one week is enough to start feeling improvement. Maybe not much, but if you write in Japanese every day for seven days, you will find it less daunting by the end of the week. The quality of your writing might not have improved yet, but the act of writing in Japanese will be less intimidating and less difficult.
- You need to focus on the task you chose for the week and stop thinking about all the other things you are not doing. If you think you should be doing another activity instead of the one you picked, just program it for the following week and free your mind from it.
- If you write in a notebook the theme of the week and what you did each day, it will become a precious collection of your efforts and an invaluable history of your language journey. Also, your notebook works as a partner for accountability, and it will help you to not skip a day.
- This system is highly customisable. Depending on the time you can devote to your language study in general or during a particular week, you can adjust your weekly challenge. It can be reading one page per day in Japanese as well as reading 40 pages.
- You should not skip a week and make sure that you are always doing something in your target language. However, some weeks can be more relaxing than others. If you come from a challenging week, you can devote the next to playing games in Japanese for example. If you know one week will be particularly busy, you can focus on listening to a podcast every day while commuting or eating breakfast.
But what about building new habits?
Unfortunately, what this method does not do is helping to build new habits, because one week is not long enough. However, I am convinced that it helps to get used to doing a particular thing in our target language. If I have been reading the news in Japanese for one week, it will become something less intimidating to do, and it will be easier to open this news website in Japanese. If I spent the whole week listening to a Japanese podcast, the next time I open my app, I will be more tempted to listen to a Japanese podcast than an English one.
A word about my last Monday’s challenge
Last Monday, I tried a one-week challenge focused on reading and translating one article (mostly editorials) by Mainichi Shimbun every day. I stuck to it even if the last two articles (Saturday and Sunday) were a little too long for me.
Translating can double the benefits of a reading session
At least, this is how I see it after one week doing this exercise. Translating forces you to look up every unknown word and be sure you understood the grammar and the pattern correctly. More than that, you have to understand the implications of the sentence, what the author is hinting at, what he really wants to say, and so on.
When I only read, I focus on the general meaning of a paragraph, I want to be sure to understand it enough to be able to move on to the next paragraph without being lost. But I miss a lot of nuances or even sometimes, undertone, sarcasm or humour.
So not only does this exercise boosts your vocabulary, but it also improves your reading abilities in general, the faculty to understand more than what is said, make connections and so on.
One week was the perfect format
Instead of trying to read the news every single day of my life and end up reading fast, without looking up words and without understanding completely what I am reading, I really studied the articles I read during this challenge. This was time-consuming, and at the end, I was glad that the week was over. But I stuck to it and I did it seriously because I knew that it was only for one week.
I wonder if doing something thoroughly for one week, with dedication and care, is not more effective than doing it every day but roughly and without really commit oneself to it. If I tell myself that I want to read the news every day, I will be tempted to pick an article that looks easy. If I choose a difficult one, I will start reading it, find it too difficult and give up, with the satisfaction of having tried and completed my task for the day. But I am not sure whether I really can make progress like that.
So yes, I will give up the idea of doing something every day (apart, of course, from studying Anki), and focus on weekly challenges.
I still need to try this method in the long-term, but I already feel very excited about it. We all have different ways of learning languages, and a good method for someone might not be suitable for others. I think that a lot of people like to feel free and just study what they want to study when they want to study it. As for me, I need some structure and a study plan to be effective. However, any rigid environment or routine usually wears my motivation down. This weekly challenge/immersion method might be the pivotal point between structure and freedom. It is also a good way to combine my desire to do a lot of things to learn Japanese and the lack of study-time in one day.
I’ll try to use this method for several months to see how it works!