Learning Japanese Vocabulary Watching Anime (Part 2)

Retaining Learned Japanese Vocabulary

Simply watching an episode of Bottle Fairy and learning new words sounds like a good way to increase ones vocabulary. You can take in new words each episode, maybe even 10 to 20 new words a week. And the best part? Next month, you might even remember one or two of them.

Learning something new is a waste of time if you simply forget it. How many times did you cram for a test in school, only to remember nothing you crammed outside of a week? Why even bother if you won’t retain the information?

Watching anime to learn works the same way, only with visual entertainment taking center stage. While visual mnemonics will exist from the context around the use of a word you pick up in an episode of an anime, this may not be enough. For me, it’s only enough if I’ve heard the word many times, such as “hanashite” (in this case, with the meaning “let go”). If a word hasn’t been used often in the lifetime of my viewing, especially if it’s a word I don’t “know” and thus don’t “hear” when it’s said, such as “kawaru” (“change it (into)”, heard in Ojamajo Doremi Sharp when the Witch Queen changes Maho-Do into a flower shop), then I won’t remember it.

A man named Sebastian Leitner wrote a book on learning how to learn, and in this German book which I have never read, he presents a space-repetition flash card system for learning. The idea behind the “Leitner system” is to separate flash cards into separate boxes. They all begin in the first box, and the first box’s cards are reviewed very often. Any card which the learner successfully knows is moved to the second box. The cards in the second box are reviewed often, but not as often as those in the first. Any correctly known cards from the second box move to the third box. In the third box, a card is reviewed even less often. Once promoted to the fourth box, a card is reviewed infrequently. With longer and longer times between reviewing a known card, one either reinforces their knowledge of a card and in turn doesn’t have to review it as often, or finds they forgot the contents of the card, and it must return to the first box for common reviewing.

How to Study Japanese on Flash Cards

Even with spaced repetition, one can still go wrong with studying. The easy method to using flash cards would be to look at the Japanese word and recite the English. “Neko? That’s cat.” It’s almost too easy. Something this easy can’t really be a good method, can it? It may be easy, but it’s also a bad method. This is because you have no need to learn the Japanese word. You merely see the Japanese word, and remember the English word. Assuming English is your first language, you’re studying your own native language!

If you’re using the above method, then when it comes time to read some Japanese words, you’ll find it’s easy to do, translating the Japanese words to English with little to no trouble. When it comes time to translate English words to Japanese, you’ll find a problem. You never learned the Japanese words, you only learned the English words. To give an example of this theory in action, ask your yourself: “How many animals would I recognize, and how many of them do I know the general visual anatomy of without looking? What does a giraffe’s shoulder’s look like? Does a girafffe have hooves on its feet? What about a hippopotamus, or a rhinoceros?”

The proper way is to be presented with the word you natively know. In this word example, your card would show “cat”, and it’s up to you to remember the Japanese word. You’re forced to recall a word in a language foreign to your own, and if you can’t do it, that card goes back to the first box.

The result of this second method is that when you are presented with English words, you are able to recall the Japanese words to translate them into. But what about if you’re presented with the Japanese words and need to translate them into English? Not only was that method “too easy” for flash card learning to begin with, but your stronger recall of Japanese words can only make this easier.

Flash Card Software

The software I’ve started using recently is Anki. Taking from Leitner, it transparently keeps track of when the time will come for reviewing each card. The software is designed with learning vocabulary in mind, and is cross-platform, meaning it can be run in Windows as easily as Mac OS X, Linux, etc.

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