A morsel of encouragement

I looked into my cache of blog post ideas and found a word file with only a link to this song:

You’ll notice that it has nothing to do with learning Japanese, Japan, etc. Or maybe it does if I read the lyrics. I saw this group perform in Vancouver and it is a good song so it’ll be nice to listen to in the background as you read this post.

After quitting Japanese a couple of years ago, and restarting a few months ago, progress awareness proves to be a good motivator. I have been doing the Kanji Challenge for the last couple of months and this is the final stretch. The Kanji Challenge is learning the main 2,200 kanji by recognizing them for their meanings only, within 100 days. Twenty-two per day.

Before hearing of this challenge and concept there never seemed to be a reasonable way to learn kanji. I had read Tim Ferriss’ few pages on language learning but like many things that he presents they seemed to be too anecdotel, perhaps with the exception of The 4-hour Work Week.

The 4-Hour Workweek, Expanded and Updated: Expanded and Updated, With Over 100 New Pages of Cutting-Edge Content

One concept that applies here in retrospect is his promotion of Mr. Pareto’s Pareto Principle: the 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of anything generally comes from twenty percent of something. I just did a quick check that there are around 54,000 kanji, while it turns out that 2,200-2,500 are useful for the daily Japanese language. That works out to having to learn only about 5% of the kanji that drives 95% of communication. Sounds good to me! A 95/5 rule – not as catchy but could propel more efficiency. We’ve culled the inefficiency since 1896!

So, the rule doesn’t always work out to 80/20. This rule is bent on a regular basis but people are still using it today. It should rather be referred to as the 80/20 heuristic.

Here is a Tony Robbins quote, and tweet:

Most people overestimate what they can do in a year and they underestimate what they can do in two or three decades.

Put in that perspective, I would never have estimated that I could ‘learn’ 2,200 Kanji within a year if you take into account the majority of methods that everyone will recommend: writing them out in exercise books, reading Remembering the Kanji (but this might have been the best pre-iphone method), memorizing both of the readings and the writing order for every kanji, or by getting a Japanese girlfriend. So we need the right goals and tools. Many would throw in people as well – for me that was Niko of Nihongoshark.com that I had mentioned in a previous post but it seems that he had learned it from someone else based on his website.

Remembering the Kanji 1 (Kindle Fire edition): A Complete Course on How Not to Forget the Meaning and Writing of Japanese Characters

At this pace I should definitely be able to learn Japanese within a decade! Here is my progress in that Kanji Challenge as of today; 2,200 Kanji plus another course of about 300 cards so only about 380 Kanji to go from the Anki application:


How exciting is that!?

And already I am recognizing kanji in daily life such as 腎 on the pole below as ‘kidney.’ I was so excited about recognizing a kanji in the real world that it took me a couple of minutes to settle down and think, why was someone posting about kidneys for the public?!



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