>>2019.03.20: WIP >>
 

HOW TO MEMORIZE VOCAB / KANJI

You can learn a language a lot faster than how your textbook or class is teaching you, if you just implement a few simple steps into your learning. First, the basic steps true for all languages:

1. The fastest way to start learning is to take a video in a language you already know, and use subtitles in the language you want to learn. Listen to the audio, look up the foreign words that you can either understand through context ("Shoot!", "Get down!") or that you didn't get through context but that appear a lot ("me", "school"). Use a dictionary to double-check you've got the right word, but write down the definition as what you heard in the audio and not as what the dictionary says it means. I'll provide an example with why this helps the most further below.

2. When route memorizing words, use free SRS (electronic flashcards on a review timer) software like "Anki", "Memrise" etc. I currently prefer Anki because you can customize absolutely everything about the reviewing time and look of the screen, including font size/colour and whether you type the words or just "see" them. Use a san serif font like "Verdana" because serif is slower and more confusing to read, or even use a handwriting font to get yourself used to reading kanji in handwriting etc.

3. Learn words and grammar as you find them while trying to read sentences, then add them to your SRS word lists. The sentences you read must have context (can't be individual, floating, separate sentences from some grammar book). If you're studying on your own you can just add words when they seem to pop up a lot, but when you're studying from a textbook you should attempt to read the reading piece first, then add in the words to your SRS as you go, instead of relying on the vocabulary list. This is because your brain just remembers better if you've seen it "in context" first instead of "in a random list somewhere".

4. When easily possible break apart all words, first learning the parts and then if necessary learning the special, different meaning they have when put together into the word you actually found. For example if "puppy" is 子犬, that's actually the two words "子 offspring, child", "犬 dog". There's no use memorizing "puppy" as a separate word if you can infer the meaning from knowing "child-dog". When you can find grammatical etymology, do the same for that. A lot of what we say, especially in certain languages, is actually just condensed words or phrases.

5. If you know another language it can be much easier to learn with that one than with the one you're currently using or think is "obvious" to use. This is true in vocabulary, grammar and nuance.

Example 1:

Various everyday phrases in Japanese can be extremely difficult to translate into natural-sounding English because either we don't have the word (食う - casual word for "to eat") or don't say the word at the same time as or as often as Japanese does (だよね - "I know right?"; ごちそうさま - a word used when finished eating every time, similar to the opposite of "saying grace").

When your textbooks, classes and dictionaries for Japanese are all in English, and even your subtitles for anime are in English, you might always be thinking of "Japanese to English" — meanwhile these Japanese words actually have direct equivalents in Swedish, used in the same ways and times as Japanese ("eller hur", "käka", "tack för maten"), that you're overlooking because you've switched off your "Swedish brain". Thus, it would benefit you to learn Japanese through Swedish directly, instead of English. Otherwise, when getting stuck in thinking of an English equivalent to a Japanese phrase you should first translate the Japanese to Swedish in your head, and then translate that Swedish to English.

Meaning, even if I don't really understand how to translate "だよね" to English, if I just recognize that it's used in the same situations the Swedish "eller hur" is, I of course know how to translate "eller hur" to English.

Example 2:

I started watching an anime series with Japanese audio and Indonesian subtitles, to learn Indonesian. I started out with essentially zero knowledge of Indonesian, but after 3 episodes I'd gathered a list of 150 words I'd looked up or learned through context and among them were things like:

mu やる、あげる、あなたを
ku 俺の、くれる

The English dictionaries say "mu" means "you, your" and "ku" means "I, me, my" etc. These words come at the end of verbs. However Japanese has words like "yaru, ageru, kureru", which also come at the end of (other) verbs, used to show stuff like "be good and do this for me", or "I'll be nice and do this for you" etc. English doesn't do this in the same kinds of times Japanese does. Basically, if I had used English instead of Japanese I would've had no clue what "I, you" were doing in those sentences but I understood it immediately when thinking of the Japanese original.

mati 死んだ、やられてる 

This is an example of social register and tense, or a lack of one. The casual "やられてる - done in", was translated the same as the less casual "死んだ - dead", implying that Indonesian doesn't have (or doesn't write) a casual word for "dead", and also shows that words in Indonesian don't change according to tense (it's "mati" whether it's "is dead" or "died").

lihat ほら、見ろ "hey/behold, look!"
lihatlah 見て来い "go and see"

Here we learn that on top of there being no difference in tense, Indonesian words also don't change if it's a command ("look, looks, looked" are the same). Then the suffix "lah" appears to mean "go and (do something)". Also, we in English definitely don't say "behold" or "hey" anywhere near as much or at the same times as Japanese says "hora", so the English translation would be more awkward than the Japanese and thus we wouldn't really know when to use the Indonesian word either, if we were learning from English.

kalau したら、もしも "when (doing), if"
bisa える、できる、切れる "can, able, manage to (do it)"
kalau bisa してみろ "try (to do it)"

This is the equivalent of phrases that, while very useful to understand real language, textbooks don't normally teach until much later (when learning Japanese, you might learn phrases like these in 2nd or even 3rd semester studies).

brengsek 野郎、ちくしょう "bastard, fuck(er), dammit"

The English dictionary says "brengsek" means "lemon, useless".

Overall after 3 episodes we've already understood an impressive amount of grammatical concepts both "simple" and "advanced", a handful of useful phrases, some vocabulary useful to all Indonesian as a whole and some vocabulary only useful for future episodes or when we rewatch the same episodes at a later date. Very importantly however, we also have a scene in our head for every word we've picked up (I know exactly when I first saw the phrase "go and see", because the main character was told to check out a bear's den; and I know exactly when I first saw the word "bear", because the main character was screaming it as one appeared).

These 150 words were found without looking up "every single word"; instead I only looked up words that appeared a lot, that I seemed to understand from the Japanese audio and context, or that were the few words I didn't already know in the sentence..

You'll find that you have to edit the word meanings as you go. After the first episode I only had "bastard" for "brengsek", but after the third I had "fucker, dammit" included. Maybe in five more episodes I'll find out I'm completely wrong and it's actually not really a swear word after all. It doesn't matter, because it's still better than starting off by thinking it means "lemon" as what the dictionary says.

HOW TO MEMORIZE VOCAB / KANJI

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3 STEPS TO MEMORIZING

There's 3 things you need to know, link and use together in order to memorize stuff fast.

1. Imagine everything as a picture, movie or experience instead of as text. Don't just think the word "fire" but imagine an actual fire. Imagine the sound, heat, smell etc of fire as far as you can. If you learn words from movies you'll have more help with this because you'll remember the "fire" you saw onscreen at the time of picking the word up. The more "sensations" (sight, touch, smell, sound) you can imagine, the easier you'll have remembering.

2. When you haven't experienced what you need to imagine, you "translate" it to something you have experienced even if that means combining several different experiences.

I've never walked on steaming hot coals barefoot, but I've walked on gravel barefoot in the summertime and I've felt the steam from hot tea. I then imagine a picture of walking on hot coals, inputting the sensory memory of gravel, summertime and tea steam. I've never been shot in the leg, but I've been pricked by thorns in the leg. I just replace the sensation of a shot wound with a thorn wound. I've never pet a lion, but I've pet a dog. When I imagine petting a lion's mane I input the sensory memory of petting dog fur.

3. When what you need to remember isn't a concrete object, you "translate" it into one using wordplay, abbreviations or a mix of both. 

For example, a "word" is a concept, but a "ward" (such as a charm to ward off werewolves or demons) or a "herd (of animals)" are both physical objects that sound similar enough to "word" to work as translations. You would then need to put in a reminder that the original was "word": The ward has a lot of decorational letter "o"s written on it (ward to word), or the herd is running in the shape of a "w" (herd to word), et cetera.

For long words you can use or create shortenings: "inspirational" becomes "inspo", "computer - comp", "internet - net", "Abraham Lincoln - Abe", "brother - bro", "ambidextrious - amde". You then translate them according to need, for example "net" is already a physical object (a fishing net, or fishnet tights) but "inspo" could be translated to "in (a) spa"; the spa could be shaped like the letter "o" or have lots of blow-up swimming rings in it. "Abe" could be translated to "ape (monkey)", and the money could have a tattoo of the letter "b" on its stomach.

Numbers can be remembered by either shape or sound: "1" could be a flag due to the shape, or a "bun (dinner roll)" due to the rhyming sound. "2" could be a swan or a Valentine ripped in half due to the shape, or a cow ("moo"), or a ghost ("boo") due to sound.

You can also split up words so you memorize them in 1-2 sound chunks (not necessarily corresponding to syllables), attaching a "translation" to each chunk, which is good for learning large amounts of foreign vocabulary. Instead of memorizing words in your textbook chapter by chapter, go to the back of the book and memorize them from the alphabetized list of all the words in the book instead.

If we pretend we're learning English, it might look like this: ab|acus, ab|andon, ab|ate, ab|out, ab|duction, ab|ility. We assign a picture to the sound "ab", which all words starting with "ab" will share, then move on through the rest of the words to assign pictures to the rest.

4. You then link together these various imagined things to get the resulting memory aid. The beginner way is to link 2 objects together, then link the 3rd object to the 2nd one; the 4th to the 3rd and so on like a chain, that you remember as a sort of story.

The advanced way is to link all 4 of those things into one single picture.

Example (beginner):

Say I need to remember that "Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky in 1809". Step 1:

Abraham Lincoln = Abe = ape (with a tattoo'd "b" on its stomach)
+ Kentucky = Ken = Ken dolls

I imagine a bunch of apes riding Ken dolls as if Ken was a horse. On the stomach of each ape is tattoo in the shape of a bee.

Step 2: Kentucky + 18

The number 1 looks like a flag, and 8 looks like a snowman with only two balls for its body. So I imagine a snowman with a flag stuck into its head for "18". Ken is building this snowman.

Step 3: 18 + 09

"0" looks like an egg, and "nine" rhymes with "mine(shaft)". I imagine a bunch of eggs piled up at the entrance of a mine for "09". A snowman with a flag stuck in its head ("18") is the one who piled up the eggs and it's standing there bent over next to the pile.

The story becomes rather odd, but:

A bunch of apes with bee tattoos are riding Ken dolls, which have built snowmen with flags stuck in their heads, one of which has come to life and piled up eggs at the entrance of a mine = Abe (Abraham Lincoln) was from Kentucky and born in 1809.

Example (advanced):

jounetsu (passion)
jouriku (landing)
jousei (situation)

All of these start with the sound "jou", so we assign a mental picture to that sound: let's say a "cup of Joe", meaning a cup of coffee. Remaining in the first word is "netsu", which can be broken up into "net"; "su" can be translated to "shoe" (while "sue" is an obvious choice in sound, "sue" is a concept and would still have to be translated to a physical object).

The second word has "rik", which we can translate to "leek", and ends in "u", which as it's the final letter in the word we can decide to translate it to a tiger tail in the shape of an "u", because tails are the "end" of an animal. Last is "sei", which rhymes with "May", and "May" can be symbolized with a "maypole where the decoration on top is an s-shape". Thus the list ends up like this:

coffee + net + shoe (jou|net|su)
coffee + leek + tiger tail (jou|rik|u)
coffee + S-maypole (jou|sei)

jou|net|su: I imagine a mug full of steaming coffee, but the coffee cup is actually made of a really thick layer of bug net. The cup is sitting snugly inside a sports shoe.

jou|rik|u: I imagine a mug full of steaming coffee, but a leek's been put in there to make "leek flavoured coffee". Instead of a normal handle the cup has a tiger tail curled into a "U" shape, and instead of being white the cup has tiger stripes.

jou|sei: I imagine a magic circle made out of mugs of steaming coffee, placed around the base of a beat-up maypole. On top of the maypole is a dollar sign. To further connect the mugs to the maypole, the mugs look like they're made out of pine needles.

First I imagine these things without worrying about attaching the English meanings to the words. In this way I "solidify" the imagined picture.

I then need to translate the concepts of "passion, landing, situation" to physical things and tie them to these images. "Passion" can be a "passionfruit", which I've eaten before. "Landing" reminds me of birds landing on the ground so I imagine a vast stretch of land from a bird's eye view, like in a painting. "Situation" can be abbreviated to "sit", which I can then visualize as (=translate to) a seat cushion like for wooden chairs.

jou|net|su: The coffee cup made of netting is sticky with passionfruit juice and has little passionfruit seeds all over it. Or the shoe's stomping down on passionfruits and there's a big puddle of passionfruit juice underneath the shoe, and I'm getting passionfruit juice spray all over my face from the stomping.

jou|rik|u: The coffee cup is falling through the air towards the vast stretch of land.

jou|sei: There's a seat cushion underneath the maypole.

5. We remember things in relation to other things, both conceptually and physically. If I remember "the microwave at school", I don't remember just the microwave — I remember the shelves with cups standing next to it, the table it was standing on, how it was in the corner of the room, or even someone using it. If I remember "my brother", I'm also reminded of "my father", "my family" and maybe even "the house I grew up in", etc.

(to be continued)