In my previous post, we figured out that one of the challenges when it comes to learning Japanese is the need to memorize huge amount of information and to keep it in the long term memory. For a decent level of Japanese when we want to know all Jouyou kanji and have a vocabulary of 5.000 words, we need to memorize around 14.000 pieces of information. Human brain is able to store vast amount of information and these 14.000 pieces is like a tiny water droplet falling into ocean.
So we have the capacity to memorize all the information, however, there are two challenges here:
It will take some time – it takes time to get all the information bites stored in our long-term memory. What we can do here, we can prioritize the information and decide, what we would like to learn first. Obviously, we would start with kanji and words which would bring the most benefit. Therefore, one piece in our learning strategy would be information prioritization.
Memorizing information is not easy – it is not always so easy to remember what we want to remember. In addition, when it comes to pieces of information which at least at the first glance are not interconnected, then our brain refuses to store this information because it thinks that it is useless garbage not making sense. Our brains evolved during millions of years of evolution to help to survive and for this, it developed its own mechanisms which are not easy to trick. However, we can use its own weapons to reach our goal. Let´s utilize the following two principles our brain uses.
Principle 1/ Our brain tends to memorize information which it believes it is important. Our brain categorizes information as important if it is presented to it very frequently or if it is linked to emotions or we are paying close attention to it. Based on this principle, we can learn more frequent information pieces first (see the strategy on information prioritization below), we can develop funny stories (funny = emotion) for kanjis or read real-time articles with content which is interesting for us.
Principle 2/ Our brain is doing bad job when it comes to memorizing lose seemingly not interconnected pieces of information. On the other hand, the more these pieces of information are interconnect, the better we can memorize them. To use this principle, we can add another strategy piece to our learning tool box – information networking.
Let´s now have a look at our learning strategy tool box:
1/ Information prioritization using frequency of use
Not every piece of information is equally important. Even if we would finally want to learn all kanji and many words, we can start with learning those which are most frequently used as they represent the biggest added value when it comes to reading and speaking. I have performed analysis of common texts and could see that the most frequently used 1.000 kanjis account for about 90% of all kanji in an average text (my tool provides you this analysis as well). Similarly, studies show that the most frequent 5.000 of words account for more than 90% of the spoken and written texts. Even if we want to learn all kanji and have a decent vocabulary, why not to start with the most frequent ones so that we can see the results of our hard work rather sooner than later.
To remember 10 unrelated pieces of information might be difficult. But if the 10 pieces of information are somehow interrelated or linked, than it is easier for our brain to remember it as it creates connections between the pieces of information. The more connections we create the better and faster we can memorize the information. With the increasing number of such connections, it will also become easier and easier to memorize further information. Therefore, it is helpful to create as many connections between the individual pieces of information as possible. We can use various aspects of the kanji and words to help us to create these connections, for example:
o Kanji radicals
o Kanji pronunciation
o Similar kanji
o Kanji and its words
o Related kanji
o Related words
o Words in sentences
o Saving interesting examples
The tool I have developed (Kanjimax) is helping with creation of information networks. The user can group kanji or words, add kanji stories, learn groups together, search for kanji with the same reading etc.
Reading real life texts
Reading real life texts is more fun than just learning kanji or vocabulary alone. Seeing the kanji and words in action is very motivation – this is the goal of our efforts. I can tell you it was great feeling when I tried to read interesting blog articles and I started to understand bits of it. I also realized, that I could more easily remember the kanji and words I have encountered in the text. This was because I was focused on the text and was curious to understand what it is about. There were emotions in the game and this helped my brain to memorize the information bits easier. In addition, reading real texts also follows the information prioritization strategy. The most frequent kanji and words would come up in a text more frequently and thus, your brain would see them more frequently. It would think that this must be important information because seeing it so often and would try to memorize it. On top of it, reading real life articles also supports the information networking strategy. Information is here interconnected, similar kanji combined in one word, words related to the article topic show up together, frequent noun and verb combinations show up together etc.
We can now conclude, that using a learning strategy based on information prioritization, information networking and reading real life texts might help us to get to our goal faster. And our goals is to be able to read some exciting stuff in Japanese and then to be able to talk about it with our friends. The tool I have developed (Kanjimax) will help you to achieve that. In my next post, I will show you how to use the tool.