Vocabulary Question

Here’s a question from Yannick:

I’m also trying to follow the course from Niko, i recently finished the kanji and am now facing a new challenge, vocabulary!

Well done!  Phase 1 out of the way!

I though “yeah it Will be easy, after all i went through 2200 kanjis”.

I thought that at first, too!  Learning the Kanji first is still a great idea, as it will help you out, but it doesn’t make everything after it super easy, does it?

I can’t get those pronunciations stuck in my head:/ I’m using Anki and can’t even add 5 a day…
And the day after I’ll have forget everything, that’s a shame.

And that’s what the Kanji won’t give you – how the words sound.

Do you have any advice for someone that is way before your point?

Did you learn the on/kun of kanjis?

I feel your pain!  Learning the Kanji was a great move.  It really helped me out a lot, but my first time through the Nihongoshark anki vocabulary deck did not go well.

For those of you that haven’t used it, the deck contains both words and sentences.  I did okay with the words, but the sentences about wiped me out.

As an example, let’s say that you are learning English and you learn the word “dog” and then I give you the sentence, “That dog chased a cat up a tree” to help you remember it.  But, as it turns out, you didn’t know the words chase, cat or tree and didn’t know how to make verbs into the past tense.  That sentence is really just a jumble of sounds and a translation that you are trying to commit to memory.

So, while I love the Nihongoshark anki deck and am getting a lot of use out of now, I don’t think it works at all well for vocabulary beginners.  It sure didn’t for me, anyway.  So my first suggestion is to set that deck aside for the time being.

No, I didn’t learn the on/kun of the Kanjis.  I considered that but abandoned it really quickly.  I felt like I was cramming a lot of information into my head that wasn’t helping me at all.  I figured I would learn the readings as I learned the vocabulary.

Which brings us back to how to learn it.

I can tell you what works for me.

First of all, as I said, set the Nihongoshark anki deck aside for right now.  It’s a great tool, and I definitely recommend that you come back to it later, but, in the beginning, those sentences are just too much.

Second, you might try Memrise.  Do a search for Japanese and you will find a lot of courses, including some basic vocabulary courses.  With Anki you are just looking at the words (and hearing them).  With memrise you will have a variety of exercises, looking and listening and typing in the words in  hiragana which means sounding them out, which should help you learn how to pronounce them.  Also, with memrise you can review them several times a day if you choose, which is something Anki isn’t really set up for.

Third, don’t just learn vocabulary.  The words alone are useless.  You have to be able to make some sentences.  Start learning basic grammar at the same time.  There are a lot of tools out there for basic grammar from books to websites to apps.

Fourth, when you learn new vocabulary, force yourself to begin using it right away.

Let’s say, for example, that you first words are adjectives:  大きい (big) ちさい (little).  Okay, good.  Now you know how to say, “It is big”  大きいです and “It is little” ちさいです.  Now it’s up to you to find every opportunity you can to use those sentences.  Out loud is best, so be prepared to talk to yourself.  “Oh, look at the house.  大きいです.  Hey, a squirrel!  ちさいです.”  Yes, this can get pretty dull when you only have a few words, but, as your vocabulary grows, it gets better.

What if you don’t know enough words to make a whole sentence?  Then do some Japanglish.  Say the sentence to yourself in English but toss in Japanese when you can.

きのう, there was an earthquake にほんで.  Man, I bet that was 怖い.

You have to use the words as much as possible to make them stick.  You could even write out five or ten words for the day on a card and, every little while, pull the card out, look at it, and make sentences.

For words that really won’t stick, you have to use memory tricks.  You are the best judge of what kind of memory tricks work for you.  But, to give you an example, I just could not remember the word for cash, which is 現金 and is pronounced げんきん.  Well, I do know the word for health which is 元気 and is pronounced げんき.  Pretty similar, right?  So I decided that “Cash makes you healthy.”  That made me remember the word for cash sounds a lot like the word for health.

So, (1) Repetition – go over your words several times daily (2) Use the words out loud as much as possible in sentences even if you have to mix languages to do it  (3) Memory tricks whenever you need them.

And, yes, the out loud part actually is important.  It engages more of the brain and so helps things stick better.

Also, it is probably better to start out with a handful of words and hit them hard.  Most people find that, as vocabulary begins to stick and the sounds of the language get into your head, it gets easier and then you can begin to increase your words.

I can’t set myself up as some kind of expert on how to learn Japanese.  I’m doing it and having some success, so I can tell you what has worked for me and hope that it works for you.

Also, if anyone reading this has some ideas to help, please let us know!




3 thoughts on “Vocabulary Question

    • I wish I had some wonderful way to tell you about that makes it all easy, but I don’t. Thinking about it, though, I was taking my own advice while I was on a bike ride, and that turned into a blog post on its own.


  1. Pingback: Remember Vocabulary | Japanese Language Journey

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