How to use Free Software to learn Japanese, and more.

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How should I make cards for Japanese words that don't have any kanji?

February 09, 2024 — Tatsumoto

How do you deal with flashcards where the 1T word is in katakana or hiragana? When I see a word in kanji and have to recall the reading, I feel like I'm proving to myself I actually know the word as opposed to just reading it and recalling what the card means. Should I kanjify it?

In general, if you encounter a word that can have kanji while reading Japanese, it is advisable to kanjify it when making a card.

When you force yourself to recall the word's reading by looking at the kanji, it makes the reviewing process more challenging and leaves a greater impact on the brain. This approach increases the likelihood that you're going to remember the word for a much longer period of time.

Even if a word is usually written in kana, if it can technically be written in kanji, it is important to be prepared to read it in kanji as well because there may come a time when you encounter it written in kanji. If you can read a word in kanji, you can automatically read it in kana as well. However, if you can only read it in kana, you cannot read it in kanji. Therefore, if you can read it in kanji, you are prepared for everything.

Whenever a word has kanji, it is beneficial to kanjify it when making a flashcard. It improves your understanding of the word in every way. However, certain words, especially katakana words, do not have corresponding kanji characters. In fact, the majority of katakana words are never spelled in kanji. The only exceptions are words imported during the Meiji period, when attempts were made to write loan words in kanji. Nevertheless, most of the time, kanji are not assigned to katakana words. Katakana words tend to be very easy because usually they are derived from English or other European languages. And if you know a European language, it's highly likely you already know them. So learning them shouldn't be a problem, even without using the SRS.

Apart from words with kanji and loanwords there's a third group. If a word lacks kanji characters and does not originate from a European language, such as わんさか or ひもじい, you might not learn that word to the same extent as words with kanji. However, in my experience, it has never proven to be problematic. The purpose of the SRS is not to master these words but to create mental dictionary entries so that you can recognize them more easily during immersion and improve your overall comprehension. It is primarily through immersion that you acquire and master vocabulary.

Therefore, for words without kanji, you can create standard SWCs and TSCs. Kanjify the words if there's kanji but if not then don't worry about it. You will still make progress and succeed in your language journey.

Tags: faq

Should I include monolingual definitions on the back of my Anki cards, even if I don't fully understand them?

January 22, 2024 — Tatsumoto

It is a good idea. But it is not strictly required to do so.

We recommend going monolingual eventually in the learning process. And it is highly advisable to do it at an early stage. The monolingual definitions added in advance will prove to be useful when the time comes. It's important to learn to understand them and grow accustomed to the language style used in monolingual dictionaries.

In my opinion, it's definitely a good idea to include monolingual definitions because you will continue reviewing these cards. As you do AJATT, your proficiency in the language improves. Eventually, in a few months from now, the card will come up, and you will have gained enough proficiency in the language to understand the monolingual definition on its back. This, in turn, may lead to a deeper understanding of the subtleties and nuances of the target word because typically monolingual definitions are much more detailed than simple translations found in bilingual dictionaries.

Furthermore, even if you don't fully understand the definitions, partial understanding can still provide you with valuable clues about the word's meaning and expose you to the language style used in definitions. Therefore, it will be helpful.

However, it is important to be cautious when coming across words with multiple definitions. Sometimes you look up a word, and each monolingual dictionary shows you a list of different monolingual definitions. Simply copying all definitions verbatim into Anki will result in an unreasonably long and overwhelming card. Instead, you want to carefully select the most relevant definition and add it on your card. If you're not yet at the stage where you can determine which definition is relevant out of the multiple options, then it is a little early to start using monolingual definitions. You can wait until a later stage.

Once you've reached a point where you can understand some parts of the definitions, even if some parts are still incomprehensible, it's a good time to start including monolingual definitions on your cards.

Tags: faq

Could machine translation be useful to language learners?

December 23, 2023 — Tatsumoto

Relying on translations interferes with the natural process of language acquisition. Hence, translations are harmful to language learners. This is true for human-made translations as well. Machine translations are even more dangerous, because they often introduce errors and inaccuracies.

It is permitted to translate individual words for the first couple months of learning the target language. We think it is acceptable to do so because there is no other option since the learner can't use monolingual dictionaries yet. But later on learners are expected to switch to monolingual dictionaries and stop depending on languages other than their TL. When translating individual words, it's generally better to use a dictionary app (see GoldenDict-NG, for example) instead of a machine translator. Dictionary apps are more versatile and can display results from multiple installed dictionaries. Besides, you need to get familiar with them to get ready for the monolingual stage, and it is a good idea to start early.

Note that if a word you're looking up is a concrete noun, e.g. dog, cat, kettle, elephant, the best way to understand it is by using pictures instead of words. This advice is especially useful when making Anki cards.

One of the reasons we advise against translating is that nuances always get lost in translation, especially when dealing with languages that are very different, such as English and Japanese. Therefore, if you have a gap in your knowledge of the language that you want to fill, if there is a structure that you partly understand but not completely, it's unlikely that an English translation of a sentence, especially done by an imperfect machine algorithm, will help you grasp what that structure really means, or help you understand the nuance because those things tend to get lost.

Another reason is that the natural process of language acquisition only happens when we imitate the environment in which babies learn their first language. Obviously, babies do not rely on translations to understand messages in their first language. When we read translated sentences, we understand the meaning in translation, not the original meaning. The important features of the message in the target language get lost.

To acquire our target language successfully, we have to understand the messages in their raw form, as we do in our native language every day. And the way we do that is by doing mass immersion, of course. You acquire the real meaning of an expression only after hearing it said in your immersion dozens of times. If you can't understand an expression even after looking up individual words, the best course of action is to search for various example sentences that use the expression.

I have observed that AI-powered translators, including ChatGPT (GPT 4, etc.), often generate translations of poor quality and should not be used. Although this may change in the future, the lack of improvement thus far does not inspire much hope.

Tags: faq

Language domains

October 19, 2023 — Tatsumoto

As learners, we can divide our target language into domains to better navigate the territory. Being aware of language domains helps find the most optimal path to fluency.


I don't know how to say something. Should I translate in my head?

October 08, 2023 — Tatsumoto

You should only say something you know is correct. You know that a sentence is correct if you've heard a native speaker say it before. Or if you've heard them say something very similar. However, this may not always be possible. In such cases, there are several options available to you.

First, assume that anything that doesn't come from a native speaker is incorrect. This includes:

  • Machine translations from sources like Google or Deepl.
  • Sentences you construct using memorized words and grammar rules.

Try searching examples online. There are many websites that can help. By typing in the words you want to say, you can find similar sentences in your target language. You can also search in your Anki collection. Chances are, you've mined a sentence that is close to what you want to say.

In a situation where you can't use the Internet, your only option is to say something different. Or to say what you've come up with yourself and remember to check later if it's correct. Keep in mind that just because a native speaker understands you, it does not mean the sentence is correct. It may contain mistakes.

Tags: faq

How do I know I have finished an Anki deck?

October 01, 2023 — Tatsumoto
  1. Open the Anki Browser (shortcut: b).
  2. From the left sidebar select the deck you want to check.
  3. Add is:new to the search query.

If there are no new cards left, you're done.



See also: Card states.

Tags: faq

Is it a good idea to read mostly manga in the beginning?

August 07, 2023 — Tatsumoto

Immersion is immersion. Consuming any native content is almost always the best strategy. There are some pitfalls associated with reading manga, but they're not too significant. Still, I would rather immerse in anime as a beginner, with manga taking a secondary role.

Firstly, it's important to note that manga is not voiced, unlike anime. Consequently, often when reading you may get lost because you won't know how to say certain words correctly and with the right pitch accent. If you read something incorrectly, you may accidentally create a bad habit.

Since reading manga is reading immersion, it is crucial to balance reading with listening. Only through listening we can get exposure to native speech, get used to the sounds of the language and learn to understand speech without relying on textual cues.

You may not have access to high resolution scans. Reading text on low-resolution images can be frustrating, particularly when dealing with small text and complex kanji containing many strokes.

Lastly, setting up a sentence mining workflow for manga requires more steps compared to anime. You need to learn how to use OCR software, and how to connect it with Japanese dictionaries and Anki, which may be tedious for some people. OCR software often makes mistakes when recognizing text from images, and it can hinder your ability to quickly look up words. In contrast, when reading books or watching anime with TL subtitles you don't have to rely on OCR.

Tags: faq

Do I have to use an SRS?

July 29, 2023 — Tatsumoto

Immersion is the cornerstone of AJATT, with the SRS serving as an optional supplement. While Anki or other SRS applications can be useful for helping learn vocabulary faster, it is possible to become fluent without using them. If using an SRS reduces your motivation or enjoyment, it may be in your best interest to forgo using any SRS and instead focus on the core of the method.

To improve learning speed and efficiency, it is recommended to incorporate some form of repetition, provided you can tolerate it. We eventually forget everything that we don't review. While total, mass immersion can partially counteract the forgetting curve, it can't help when trying to memorize more uncommon words.

In the case of Japanese, the SRS proves especially useful because it helps you learn how to read words written in kanji and ensures that you don't forget kanji readings. It is particularly helpul when dealing with rare kanji.

Personally, I have observed that the majority of my failed Anki reviews stem from forgotten kanji readings. I may recall the meaning of a word, but struggle to recall its pronunciation. Therefore, if your target language does not utilize kanji or hanzi characters, it is totally fine to omit the use of Anki.

Tags: faq

Can I speak early?

July 25, 2023 — Tatsumoto

Generally, AJATT does not recommend speaking (or outputting) early. Typically, this means avoiding speaking in the first 1 to 2 years, or until your comprehension reaches fluency. AJATT's core philosophy is based on learning to understand your target language before you start outputting. We have found that waiting until you have accumulated 10,000 hours of input yields better results when you start learning to speak.

Speaking early is associated with long-term negative effects which require time and deliberate practice to fix later.

We highly recommend immersing yourself in the language for 10,000 hours and then starting practicing speaking by imitating native speakers, a technique known as "shadowing."

Alternative approaches, such as trying to find native speakers to talk to, often result in frustration. When you're still a beginner, you will be making a ton of mistakes. Native speakers are not motivated to notice, point out, and correct your mistakes. They just want to speak English with you. Natives will be annoyed by you and will try to speak to you as if you were a baby, using very simple language. You won't learn much from such conversations. That's why your time during the beginner stage is better spent immersing.

Furthermore, for Japanese learners it is extremely challenging to find someone who understands the pitch accent theory, knows pitch accent rules, and can assist in developing a native-like accent. Self-study has proven to be the most effective method for achieving this objective.

Tags: faq