Vocabulary Issues and How I Fixed Them

Not a very pithy title, that, but accurate, anyway.

A couple of days ago I was just not getting vocabulary into my head, and I didn’t know why.  I considered not adding any new vocabulary for the next few days, and that’s what I would have done if I hadn’t worked out what the problem was and figured out a way to fix it.

Just to make sure we’re all on the same page:  I am using the preloaded vocabulary deck from Nihongoshark.com to learn some words, only I had reached a point where I wasn’t learning the words – they weren’t sticking in my head.  I was taking the trouble words and studying them in StickyStudy, but it wasn’t helping.  I thought that taking a couple of days to consolidate would be the answer (and there are still times when that might be the best idea) but I figured out the two issues that were plaguing me.

The first was that I had entered the same word into StickyStudy twice with a different definition each time.  No wonder I was having fits!  And this wasn’t a word with two very different definitions, either.  One of the definitions I had entered was just plain wrong.  Figuring that out was a big help!

The second thing was that I finally took several of the sentences and broke them down, looking at the words and the grammar.  That was another big help.  Let me give you an example:

  1. 姉は銀行で働いています (front of card and spoken)
  2. あね は ぎんこう で はたらきます (back of card)
  3. My big sister works at a bank

Now, the previous card gave me the verb 働く (はたらく) which means work, so obviously this sentence had someone working somewhere.  The next step was to line the two Japanese sentences up, which is made easier by the fact that the hiragana sentence has spaces between the words.  So:

姉      は   銀行       で  働いています

あね  は   ぎんこう で  はたらきます

So 姉 (あね) is “my big sister”  (Even if I didn’t know the word in Japanese, I know from learning the Kanji in Phase 2 that 姉 is “older sister”.  Hooray for Phase 2!  I can’t overstate how much easier learning the vocabulary has been because I took the time to learn the Kanji first.)

は is the topic marker (Japanese particles are actually very cool)

銀行 is obviously ぎんこう, which is “bank”

で is some kind of particle that I haven’t learned about, but it clearly has something to do with indicating where the work is done

働いています (はたらきます) is the nonpast polite form of 働く (as I can tell from the ますending) and 働く, remember, is the verb I was given on the card right before the card with the sentence on it.  (And, anyway, from Phase 2 I already knew that 働 means “work”.)

Because the particles and verb endings are in hiragana, lining the two sentences up is 朝飯前 (a piece of cake, which I broke down in a previous post just for the fun of it and is a word that I use whenever possible just because I like it) and that makes it clear to me which word translates as which word, helps me get the vocabulary in my head better because I’m seeing it in action, and helps me see grammar at work.  Also, it’s fun – kind of like doing a puzzle.

Fixing my earlier error and then doing eight or ten sentences from the vocabulary deck this way has really helped it all come together, so I ended up doing my full complement of new vocabulary each day this weekend, and learning proceeds apace.  (Yes, I know that’s an odd expression, but I like the sound of it.)

Now, the next step…will be to take these sentences, just look at the English, and try to come up with the Japanese…I’m figuring on making a whole lot of mistakes there, but that’s okay.  Not sure when I’ll get around to trying that, though, but pretty soon, I guess, since it’s such an obvious next step and surely must be helpful.

Oh, and, by the way, I have signed up for my second lesson with とも先生 on Cafetalk.  This time it is an hour lesson.  I’m not sure what I will learn, but I have expressed an interest in learning about adjectives…that’s a complicated topic, just in case you haven’t dived in to it yet.

Oh, yeah, in case anyone was wondering how much time this all takes…I have a wife and a family and a job and a life and I still have time for all of those things, so the answer is that it doesn’t take anywhere near as much time as it might sound like.

Here are our two useful facts for the day:

  1. Consistency matters more than anything else
  2. You can always learn new ways to learn better

Speaking of which, if you’re still reading after all of those words, good for you.  You deserve a prize, but I don’t have any prizes to give out.  I put up a post a few days ago asking for your learning tips, so, how about it?  Help us all out here by giving us ideas, websites, apps we haven’t thought of yet.  You don’t even have to go hunt for that post.  Add it as a comment to this one.  Let’s work together.

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